Caveat: Dinkytown

I spent some time in my very old haunts around Dinkytown, the neighborhood on the northeastern edge of the University of Minnesota campus.  Some things change — there's the appalling new stadium on which the University clearly spent a vast sum of money, and new parking ramps and buildings and roads.  And the Student Book Store where I worked for 3-odd years has changed management and shrunk a bit, while the "Dinkydome" where it's located is under humongous renovation — it looks like they're going to put a giant building behind it where the parking lot and the Starbucks used to be.  The "Expresso22" (the cafe with the punk-gothy vibe that I used to escape to) is closed because of the renovations. 

But some things stay the same.  Down on 14th Street, the Expresso Royale is still going strong and has the same feel to it.   I used to study many hours there, way back into the 80's, when it was called something else and was open 24 hours a day.  I even saw some of the same dysfunctional Dinkydenizens loitering along 14th street… faces familiar from 10 and even 20 years ago.

Then I saw Minneapolis police officers on horseback.  That was weird.  What's that about?  In Dinkytown?  It's always been rather bohemian (Bob Dylan started his folk career there), but horse-mounted police was a rather excessively Manhattennish touch, I thought.

Overall, I guess  I was just reminiscing, though I stopped in the U's bookstore, as it's a good place for the obscure sorts of things I tend to like to browse. 

Caveat: That didn’t last long

I went into a grocery store, and it was strange how the "reverse culture shock" of my return to the US suddenly caught up with me.  I really hadn't been experiencing much difficulty with adjusting to being back, but somehow being in the store left me feeling lost.  And even more strangely, amid a giant warehouse-style grocery store, I managed to find some locally made kimchi in about 2 minutes, but couldn't find several things that should be easy.

I managed not to have kimchi for about a week.  I guess I was craving some.  Weird how it grows on a person.  I used not to like it.

Caveat: 개구리도 움츠려야 뛴다

개구리도 움츠려야 뛴다 => frog-also crouch-[“only when”] jump-[UNMARKED PRES.] => “A frog has to crouch first to jump.”  A Korean proverb that I found inscribed on a tourist-souvenir tshirt that I bought before leaving Korea.
I ran errands today.  It was blustery with cobalt clouds scudding across the sky.  Intermittent splutters of rain, 12 C.  Weather like this could convince me I’d rather stay in Minnesota than return to Korea or elsewhere — I love Minnesota’s weather so much.  People think that’s crazy, but it’s really, truly true.
I had dinner with my stepson Jeffrey, who’s moving from St Cloud to Twin Cities because of a promotion with his work.  I enjoyed my time with him — he’s turned out a strong, decent sort of human being, and I’m glad.

Caveat: I lost my truck in the Han River

OK, not really – it was a dream.
It didn’t take me long to start dreaming “driving” dreams again. And I haven’t even done much driving, yet. The dream started kind of vaguely, with my driving my Nissan pickup around Japan and Korea. Which makes sense, of course, given I recently was traveling there and only now returned to Minnesota to be driving my pickup, running errands. But then the dream became very vivid.
I drove it onto a ferry boat. Despite the fact that I never got near the automobile deck on any of the ferries I rode, the ferry auto-deck was rendered in great detail, with appropriate Korean-language warning signs (who knows if they were correct), appropriate makes of vehicle (Hyudais and Kias and Samsung-Renaults and Ssangyong SUVs, etc), and appropriate men standing around smoking. My dream-truck was rendered in great detail, too, with its post-two-year-storage coating of dust on the hood and dented front license plate (actually, that wasn’t quite accurate, as my actual front license plate doesn’t look so dented, as far as I can tell looking out the window at it, just now).
pictureThe truck was parked at one end of the auto-deck on the ferry, right up against one of the fold-down ramps for unloading the cars when the ferry docks. I fixated on one of the fat, smooth steel rods or “bolts” that are used to hook the ramp up by passing through a padlock hasp sort of arrangement in order to hold it in place, and the fat cotter pin through the end of it.
Looking out through the crack between the ramp and the steel wall of the ferry, I saw the Seoul skyline gliding past. All of which is implausible – there are no vehicle ferries on the Han River through Seoul, and it’s unlikely I’d be driving my truck in Korea, right? But such are dreams.
Then the cotter-pin I’d fixated on popped out, the metal rod popped out of its hasp, and the ramp fell open. The boat was rocking violently, although I saw no waves. And so my truck slipped off the deck and into the muddy river water, almost soundlessly. The men smoking cigarettes hardly noticed. I felt very little alarm, either. And that was the dream.
Interesting symbolism. At right, the truck in question.  No picture of the ferry auto-deck, however – I didn’t have my cellphone camera in dreamland. But below is the Han River, as seen from the “63” building in June.

Caveat: Sleepless in St Paul

I woke up at 4:30 this morning, and was completely wide-awake.  Jet-lag, and all that. 

So, I got on my computer and finally got around to trying to build a "cafe" (which is what Koreans call user-generated web-forum-blog-type-thingies:  "카페") on  It's a bit challenging for me, since the interface for signing up and doing the configuration and settings is only in Korean.  But after looking up lots of Korean words on the various links and buttons and instructions, I succeeded!  I have decided that I'm really bad at keeping my own ASP.NET-based website updated, and my students are very comfortable with the Korean internet's cafe concept, that the best way to set up something internet-based for interacting with students and staying in touch would be to make my own cafe. 

So, here it is.  I even posted something there.   I've redirected "" to that location, now, too [update – this "redirect" is no longer true, but the cafe is still there.  neglected].  We'll see if it works out for keeping in touch with my former students (and, presumeably, over time, future ones as well?).

Warning — there's a lot of Korean on the site.  Not because I put it there, but because the "frame" is part of the internet portal, which is one of the big 3 Korean internet portals.   Of the 3, I like best because it's the only one that works seemlessly with firefox.  The other two seem to be more Microsoft dependent.  If your computer doesn't have the Korean character set, you might see a lot of gobblygook.

Caveat: Disorientation at Dawn

I had one of those moments when I woke up in "the middle of the night" – actually it was around dawn, I think – where I spent a really long, mostly lucid time puzzling out where in the world I was.   That's common for many people when traveling, but I don't experience it very often.  In my brain, I was paging through the many places I've been over the last month:  my apartment in Ilsan, hotel rooms and ryokan and yeogwan in Japan and Korea, my friend Peter's apartment where I crashed, too.  Nothing was matching up to the homey familiarity of my crashing spot on Mark & Amy's living room floor.   It took a long time — at least 5 minutes.   Finally, I put it together, where I was.

Was it all a dream?  This is where I stayed on the nights before my departure for Korea, too.  So it's a "full circle" moment.

Beautiful Minnesota fall rain, now.   I slept late — later than I have in ages.  I can blame timezones.  Now, off to get some things done.  I hope I can get my car running.

Caveat: Back home in Minnesota

Minnesota is only one of many places I consider home.  But it's one that has played one of the most significant roles in my life.

Nothing long to write about.  Tired.  Airport to airport to airport to airport.  Teleportation in loud slow motion.  Dinner with great friends Mark & Amy and their sons Charlie and Martin.  Tomorrow, I need to begin sorting things out.   I will probably be spending some quality time at my storage unit, which is close by to here, and getting my truck running.

Caveat: Killing time in the Tokyo Airport

The wait for the next flight is longer than expected.  So here I sit.  I should take this time to work on one of my videos, maybe. 

I already feel exhausted, and I've only done the shortest, easiest leg of this 2 stopover airplane journey.   I guess I had some busy days the last few days, with a VERY late night having dinner and beer with my friend Curt and two former LinguaForum coworkers, Ryan and Keith, and my friend Peter who was so generous as to let me crash on his extra bed in his apartment in Ilsan the last few days.  Yes, I actually drank a few glasses of beer, which is almost unheard of for me.  I think I did it as a Korean-style "show of good faith" to my friend Curt — he's one of the few Koreans to whom I've admitted that the fact that I don't drink alcohol isn't really because I have a problem with alcohol per se, but rather because I have a problem with Korean-style drinking culture (i.e. get puking drunk with your coworkers as a way of bonding with irrational management).  Anyway, we were talking and and eating 안주 until after 3 am.  This is so typical of Korea — and that's on what was a worknight, for all of them.

Yesterday, I made a weird sort of disconsolate "pilgrimage" to the Seoul Museum of Contemporary Art.  What do I mean by that?  Well… in around April of 1991, I made a trip to this museum, and it was my absolute very first time "on my own" in Korea.   I arrived in Korea with the US Army in December of 1990, but because the Gulf War was going on, we were almost constantly on "lockdown" status, and getting leave to go off base was difficult.  As a consequence, the first time for me to be able to take a day and go exploring the country as a civilian didn't come until 4 months in.  I got a "day pass" from my commander, and rather than use it to go to another post (like Camp Casey or Yongsan), I decided to go exploring on my own.

I'd been studying Hangeul, so I was confident I could decipher any location signs on e.g. trains or buses (Korea in 1991 still didn't have a universal policy of putting Roman-alphabet transliterations on all public signage, the way that they do now — at least not out and about the provinces — so being able to competently navigate public transportation required at least a basic mastery of the sounding out the writing system).  

It was a Saturday or Sunday, I don't remember.  Around 9 am, I took a taxi from the Camp Edwards gate to Munsan train station, and took a train into Seoul Station.  Nowadays, there's a subway line that goes right in front of where Camp Edwards used to be, but back then it was a slightly decrepit suburban commuter line.  At Seoul station, I got into the Subway (I think it only had 5 or 6 lines then — now it has 15 or something like that).  I had decided based on some guidebook I'd found at the base library, that I was going to try to go to the museum.  I was feeling starved for culture.

I enjoyed navigating the subway, and I got out to Seoul Grand Park (대공원역) on the blue line by around noon.  I walked up the pathways, past the smallish theme park called Seoulland (well, small back then — it seems much larger now when I saw it yesterday), and found the museum.  When I went back yesterday, I was running too late to be able to go in, as it was closing.  Back then, I went in and spent a few hours there.  I remember I bought a tshirt that didn't fit me very well, but that I was proud of because it had Korean writing on it, which was unheard of for a GI like me to be wearing. 

Caveat: “The Subway Octopus” and other uncategorized photos

Here are some other uncategorized still photos I have uploaded from my computer.
First, here is a picture of an octopus sculpture I saw in the Busan subway.
Next, there is the Busan skyline as seen from the top of Jangsan (which is situated north of Haeundae beach in the northeast part of the city). I’m looking south by southwest, here (roughly toward Taiwan, off across the sea by a thousand kilometers or something like that). You can click on these pictures to see bigger versions.
This is a picture of “Busan Tower” that I ascended while in Busan one evening. The view of the city, all lit up, was pretty spectacular, but I didn’t get any photos. Sorry.
Here is a picture I took of the screen in the express elevator that runs to the top of this tower.  When your express elevator is running Microsoft Windows, and Windows crashes (as is its wont to do), does the elevator then crash, too? We were all somewhat alarmed to see the error message suddenly pop up on the screen, two thirds of the way to the top of the tower.
Here is a picture of greenery on Ulleundo that I like.
Here is a picture of red peppers drying in the morning sun on a Dodong, Ulleungdo, side street. A very common sight everywhere in Korea, this time of year. Such a delicious country!
Last: I met a guy and his wife and mother-in-law who were on tour visiting Ulleungdo. They shared some food with me and we chatted in a rewarding mix of his terrible English and my terrible Korean and his mother-in-law’s monologue. I took some pictures of the three of them, using their camera, with the view of Dodong harbor behind them (I hadn’t brought my own camera on that particular hike).
Then he took my picture in the same spot as they’d been standing. I wrote my email down for him, because he said he would email the pictures to me. I thought nothing of it – but the other day, I got several pictures of myself via email. So… here I am, standing on the rock path at the southwest corner of the Dodong harbor entrance (the camera is pointed roughly north).

Caveat: 돈키호테. 진짜?! 왜요?

I keep telling myself that if my Korean is going to improve, I need to try harder to read things.   I frequently puzzle my way through parts of newspaper headlines or articles, and I’ve learned a lot reading advertisements, but such forms of “found Korean” won’t be available to me when I return to the US.  So I’ve been telling myself I should buy some actual books in Korean to try reading.  It is perhaps too ambitious, given the pathetic level of my vocabulary — but I’m pretty good at working out the grammar as long as I have a dictionary in hand.
In one final visit to the bookstore today, I bought what looks to be a late-elementary or middle-school level text of Korean history, that I might try.  I also found an abridged translation of Don Quijote (돈키호테 = don-ki-ho-te).  I remember when I was first trying to learn Spanish, I would sit down and try to read, in Spanish, books I had read before in English.  So what better first text to sit down with in Korean than a translation of something I know very well in Spanish?

Caveat: I said some goodbyes to students today

… I felt a bit melancholly.  And they complained, of course, about the new teacher.  But I remember when they were complaining to the previous teacher about me, too.  Such are students… they get used to something, and then the changes are always a bit hard.  Nevertheless, I will miss them greatly.

I tried to work on editing a little video of Ulleungdo today, but I was getting perfectionistic and wasn't happy with what I had.  I think I will start over.  Sorry.

I've been making a lot of lists, lately.  Lists of things I need to do or buy (before leaving Korea, after getting back to the states, if-and-when I return to Korea — those sorts of lists).  But also, perhaps I mentioned, trying to list "good things" and "bad things" about Korea, in an effort to help myself decide whether I really want to return here or whether I would rather do something else, next, with my life.  I don't like the idea of being "flighty" about things.  I like the idea of "sticking to" something.  So, what, exactly, am I sticking to by returning to Korea after some length of break.   And, is it something I really want to stick to?  If so, why?  Are there better things to take on and stick to?

Caveat: War. Conflict.

I went to the Korean War Memorial and museum in Seoul today.  I've never been there, although I came close to going a few times.  It's interesting to go there for me, in part, because it's sited on land that was still part of the Yongsan Garrison (US Military command base in Korea) when I was first here in 1991.  Being in the Yongsan area always makes me have strong recollections of when I was here in Korea in the Army. 

The museum had a few interesting aspects.  I actually enjoyed the displays on the first floor, about earlier Korean military history (i.e. back from 19th c. and earlier) than about the Korean war.  Modern state nationalism and ideology-driven conflicts, in all their manifestations, often leave me feeling rather negative about the human condition.  I suppose the earlier stuff is more interesting because it's less relevant… I can kind of look at is a broad swathe of almost literary background, which is always the way I best enjoy reading history, I guess.

I've had people asking me for "more videos."   I have lots of "footage" (kind of an outdated term in the age of gigabytes of storage on harddrives or USB sticks), but I need to put some things together.  Maybe I'll work on something tomorrow.  I'm going to visit my former job and say a final goodbye to some of my students and coworkers in the afternoon, but hadn't really decided on something for the morning yet.

I've been feeling rather conflicted the last few days about "Korea."  What I mean, is that I have been pretty sure I want to come back, and I have some solid opportunities to do so, to work.  But I keep playing lists in my head:  positives about Korea in one column, negatives about Korea in another, and it's too evenly balanced.  And there are other adventures to be had, elsewhere in the world. 

How strong is my interest in, and acknowledged passion for, the Korean language?  How willing am I to accept those many annoying aspects of Korean culture, in my pursuit of the language?

Caveat: Weed-wacker infomercials on Buddhist TV and other random observations

Yesterday felt a bit unproductive.  I wasted two hours trying to figure out if I could reactivate my cellphone.  The company ended the service as soon as their records indicated that my work visa had expired.  Last time that happened, I had a one month grace period which I'd been counting on to be able to exploit this time so I could have a functioning cellphone for the rest of the time in Korea.  I suspect I didn't get the grace period this time because I disappeared off the grid to Japan for 10 days.

Anyway, it started seeming very expensive and complicated to get them to reactivate the phone, so I gave up and just rented a cellphone for this last week, so I'll be able to call people or whatever.  It's hard to function in Korean society anymore without a cellphone — adoption is basically 100% as far as I can tell.

I then had to find a different hotel, as the funky place I stayed my first night was fully reserved.   I had chosen that place almost solely on the basis of the fact that they offered in-room free wifi according to their website, which is hard to find in anything but top-end hotels.   It was OK, kind of a youth-hostel vibe that reminded me a bit of my years at Casa de los Amigos in Mexico City.

I may try to stay with an acquaintance, Peter (not the same Peter I worked with, but an American I met through my friend Basil some months back), in Ilsan — he's made an offer to crash on the extra bed at his apartment.   It would be convenient to be based in Ilsan, and the choices of hotels out there are surprisingly limited, especially for Korea:  either high-end business hotels or those pseudo-posh "love motels" (a la the Japanese model) where you can easily get a room overnight, but they look at you funny at the front desk when you ask to stay for such a long time, and your neighbors might get noisy.   I have seen very few of the traditional Korean yeogwan that can be found almost anywhere in most Korean towns.

I felt very tired yesterday.  Perhaps all the traveling, catching up with me.  Returning to my comment of some days back:  I'm really not that good of a traveler… I just like being in lots of different places.

Staying in various hotels and places, I've been enjoying (?) the glories of having access to Korean cable television, which is something I never had access to in my apartment.   60 odd channels.  Here are some random observations.

Why did the minbak at Dodong, Ulleungdo, have a channel with Chinese-language music videos?

There are at least two Christian networks (one may be Catholic?), but there's also a Buddhist TV network, which is fascinating, as it follows the Americn "Christian media" model closely, but of course, the content is strikingly different.   At one point, I was fascinated to watch a long lecture (sermon) by a traditionally bald-headed senior monk at some temple, and to note that he was, in fact, an American (ethnically European), speaking fluent Korean, badgering his audience and telling them jokes in a style not unlike a Christian pastor.   Of course, I laughed for a long time when this was immediately followed by an extended informercial for a weed-wacker. 

There's the "Go" channel (as in the complex board game of "Go"), but there also seems to be a channel with a lot of Chinese-style chess.  And there are 3 or 4 sports channels, too, but I'm puzzled by the fact that they always seem to be covering the same sport at any given time, but different angles and specific matches or events.  At one time, you'll seem 3 or 4 channels covering golf.  Then later, they're all covering soccer matches.  Mostly, they're covering baseball (this is late summer in Korea, after all).  But… are they all working together, or as a cartel, such they always have the same sports?  Is there some convention or rule that says they have to stay in sync?  Or is all really the same company?   I can't quite puzzle it out.

Korean TV seems to have a lot of shows dedicated to following "average people" around in their lives.   So you can sit and watch someone shopping, or meeting their friends for lunch, or having dinner with their family, with a running narrative commentary.   I'm sure there are special reasons why these individuals and families merit following around with a camera crew, but my Korean is not good enough for me very often to figure out what those reasons are.   But as a cultural observer like I am, I find myself drawn to these programs just from the way that they offer windows into daily Korean life.  One show that I caught last night was following a group of Korean expatriates living in Los Angeles, which I found particularly fascinating.

Caveat: Some pictures from Ulleungdo

Here are some still pictures. I didn’t actually take that many, because I was too busy playing with my video camera. Not sure how to balance that out, yet.
The first is from Cheonbu harbor (center of the north coast) looking west toward the Chusan outcropping. Straight west past that is South Korea. Northwest, to the rightish, is North Korea.  Exactly north, to the right, is Vladivostok. And behind is Japan. All off across the sea, of course.
The next is from the southeast coast, between Dodong and Jeodong on the walk to the Dodongdeungdae.
These are some boats in Dodong harbor.
This is the view of Dodong from the ferry terminal. Cute town.
This is the “no road existing” sign that made sure I didn’t get lost.
This is the island of Jukdo, off the northeast coast. According to a guidebook, it is inhabited by 3 families and their cows (which have to journey to and from the island using slings into and out of boats to get up and down the cliffs all around it). I want to visit this island.
This next is from somewhere along the northeast stretch of highwayless coast. I liked the tree very much.
And here are a few from my cellphone camera (much lower resolution).
Here’s a buddha next to a modernist cartoony statue of various sea-denizens that are part of Ulleungdo’s identity.
Here’s a temple wall that has a very striking picture of a sea-dragon amid the waves. It was a gorgeous painting but didn’t come out so well on the cellphone camera due to the lighting and resolution.
Here’s the excursion ferry arriving at Dodong from Dokdo. I nearly went to Dokdo myself, but the mobs of nationalistic Koreans rather put me off.
You see, Dokdo is a tiny outcropping of rock (less than 1 square kilometer) that juts out of the water about 90 km southeast of Ulleungdo. It is claimed by both South Korea and Japan, though it’s currently controlled by South Korea, and as far as I can tell, they have the most valid claim: since medieval times Dokdo has always been grouped with Ulleungdo administratively, so whoever “owned” Ulleungdo also was considered owner of Dokdo, regardless of whether the “owners” were ultimately the Japanese emperor or the Korean king, depending on epoch.
Right now, there is a huge nationalist fervor in Korea, provoked by recent ambiguous but typically in-denial-of-history mumblings by some Japanese ministry or another. The government and the media powers-that-be are encouraging all Koreans to believe firmly that “Dokdo is ours!” You can even get “Dokdo” t-shirts at Dunkin Donuts. Nationalistic geo-fetishes always make me uncomfortable, as historically they often seem to lead to bad (read: violent) outcomes.

Caveat: ah, bus stations…

I'm in the Pohang bus station, and found a PCBang inside it.  I have bought a ticket for DongDaegu, which is the Daegu city express train terminal, where I will buy a train ticket back to Seoul.  I thought of buying a direct bus ticket (it's only 5 hours), but I decided to make the journey a little more interesting by going intermodal.   Everyone knows how I am about the maximal enjoyment of all forms of public transportation.

Caveat: 섬더덕 제리

I’ll make this a short entry… I have to catch my ferry back to Pohang.  I went around to Chusan and Cheonbu again this morning, and also rode the cable car to the top of the hill here in Dodong.  Mostly just wandering-around-sightseeing, as I tend to do.
Ulleungdo is famous for the things it makes with pumpkin, among other things, and although pumpkin is not normally one of my preferred tastes, they have these pumpkin jellied candies (섬더덕 제리) that are pretty good.   [Correction!–dated 2009-09-17–섬더덕 is not pumpkin, but rather Codonopsis lanceolata (see wikipedia).  I was confused because the woman selling to me was confused, but a friendly man on the ferry back from Pohang enlightened me.  Anyway, I like the candies a lot, and probably the fact that it’s not pumpkin explains why.]  I  have bought some bags of them to take back to the LBridge kids, if I get a chance to pass them out on my last goodbye visit next Monday/Tuesday.
I’m pretty sure I’m headed back to Seoul tomorrow.   Not that there aren’t tons of other places in Korea that I haven’t seen and that I would love to see, but I have a week left, at this point, and although I lived in Seoul (well, suburbs) for two years, there are a lot of toursity things I never got the chance to do.  This will be my chance to explore and get to know a bit better the city that’s been my home.

Caveat: Clockwise. Counterclockwise.

I went around the island of Ulleungdo twice today. 

First, to make up for the viewless and deckless ferry ride across, I decided to get one of the "round the island" ferry excursion tours that are offered.  Well, first thing in the morning, I walked out to the 도동등대 (dodongdeungdae, a downright stunning mouthful of frustrating Korean vowels, which means Dodong Lighthouse… actually, I think "Dodong" just means "island town").  That took about an hour.  Then I got on the excursion boat at 9 and rode it around the island, which took about 2 hours.  The boat was crowded with tour-group people, mostly large tribes of middle-aged and older Koreans, shoving and pushing and chatting and yelling and picnicking and taking each other's pictures.  I tried to stay out of everyone's way.  I noticed they had a second boat full of teenagers (middle schoolers or highschoolers on "school trip" most likely), so I probably should consider myself lucky.  Then again, teenagers are more likely to be sociable with "foreigners" like me, as they are too young to care what the foreigner might think or say.  But, the scenery was fabulous.  So, that was "clockwise" around the island.

Then when I got off the boat, I got on a bus to 저동 (Jeodeong), which only took about 10 minutes.  And I began walking.  The island had no roads until 1976, only trails and round-the-island ferries.  The government has been developing the island, and they've managed to complete about 80% of their island-circling highway.  The northeast quadrant, between Jeodong and Seokpo, roughly, is not yet built.  So, to go around the island by land, one has to walk at least this stretch of it.  There are some stretches of highway of the "road to nowhere" variety because they don't connect to any town properly, and there's not bus service for that reason.  So I had to walk about 5 km of highway and about 4 km of rough mountainous trail.  There was a lot of up and down.   But unlike in Busan, I'd remembered to get a big plastic water bottle, and I didn't feel lost — I followed the right signs, including one which memorably read "길없음" (gil-eops-eum = "no road existing" and pointing to the left, which therefore convinced me to take a right even though it was against my intuition of the moment.  So, I didn't get lost.  And by 3:30 pm, I was in Cheongbu, where I could catch a bus back around the north, west, and south sides of the island and back to Dodong, which is on the southeast corner.  That was counterclockwise.  It was a great day.  I'm tired.

I took some video of both trips, and when the battery on my camera ran low, I took some pictures with my cell phone (which isn't allowing me to make calls, unfortunately, but which I still carry for it's handy pocket-watch and korean-english dictionary functionality).   I'm not posting any pictures, from here, however, as I have to get things loaded across to my computer, and then, preferably, I should try to find a place where I can wifi directly online and not have to transfer to a USB stick to upload on a public computer.

So anyway, that was my day in Ulleungdo.  I think it's the most beautiful place in Korea that I've seen, and it's in my top ten list of most beautiful places anywhere.

Caveat: … or not off the grid?

I should have known it wouldn't be easy to escape (or leave behind) civilization… especially in crowded Korea. 

I'm on Ulleungdo, and I just couldn't resist popping into the PCBang (Korean style internet cafe) just up the street from my pension.    Yes, they have PCBang in Ulleungdo.  Sigh. 

Pohang is a depressing, charmless city for the most part.  But I walked the length of it, from the bus station to the ferry terminal, and saw more fish for sale (mostly still wiggling) than I ever thought possible, at the market.   The city is famous as Korea's "steel town" (a kind of Pittsburgh by the sea, I guess) but that's all a recent development of its history — 50 years ago it was just a generic east coast fishing village.

The ferry crossing was… stunningly boring.  Once again, even though this wasn't a hydrofoil, passengers were not allowed on deck.  And my seating section didn't even have windows.  It was like spending 3 hours in a shaking, rocking, rolling room full of 300 hungover and picnicking Koreans.  Hmm.  Next time, remind me not to be stingy, and to instead go ahead and blow the extra 7 bucks for an upgrade to First class, where, apparently, at least they have windows.

But landing at Ulleungdo Dodong harbor and stepping out was like stepping into a movie set.  This verdant, tiny island fishing village, with hawkers and sellers and the entire day's worth of departures and arrivals for the island's only transport connection to the world bustling around the dock.  I had read in a guidebook that people will accost all obvious tourists (which I am no doubt one, given my complexion and physiognomy if nothing else) with offers of lodging at the various pensions and hotels to be found in the town (of about 5000, I think).  

I took up the first ajumma (older Korean woman archetype) to make me an offer — entirely on the criterion that she obviously knew no English whatsoever.  Finally, someone who will force me to speak Korean with them.   She wasn't very chatty as we walked up the street to her pension (two rooms in the back of her storefront that she rents to travelers), and her price seemed steep, compared to the guidebooks, but still less than the generic hotel I'd stayed at last night in Pohang.

But she unleashed a monologue of discussion (what did I want to eat, I got that) when I'd gotten settled in my room and come back out to go off exploring.   "뒤에" [later],  I said, but I wasn't sure I was using the right word, until another ajumma came by on the street and yelled at my proprietess "뒤에!  뒤에!"  and added something to the effect of  "just listen to him, he said later."

I still probably wasn't using it quite correctly.   But at least I wasn't completely off the mark.

OK, I'm off.  In theory, given I showed I can do a 15 km hike in about 5 hours in Busan, on Saturday, I could walk around this island in a day (well, a long day).  According to the guidebook, it's 73 square kilometers.  That's a pretty small island.  I don't think I'll try that.  More later.

Caveat: Off the grid?

I'm taking the bus to Pohang today, and the ferry to Ulleungdo tomorrow.  I'm not expecting to find convenient internet connections (although you never know, these days), so, I may not be posting for a while.  I've posted at least once for every single calendar day this year.  I'm really amazed at this record.  I'll try to keep it up, by back-posting for the days I'm off the grid.  I'll be back on mainland Korea next thursday at the latest, or maybe sooner if Ulleungdo proves disappointing or frustrating or unbearably boring.  And who knows, these days, and in the land of broadband internet connectivity, I might just find easy internet there, too.  My guide book is a few years out of date, and these things change fast.

Caveat: Long Walk

I took the subway to Haeundae and walked around.  Haeundae is Busan's famous beach neighborhood, made more famous by the recent blockbuster Korean-made disaster movie of the same name, that's been the big summer blowout hit in Korea this summer.  Anyway… I decided I wasn't that interested in the beach.  I walked west, and noticed a sign for a trail up a mountain called Jangsan (장산).  I thought, oh, what the heck.  Busan is littered with mountains kind of similar to the way Seoul is (or Los Angeles, for that matter), and the city kind of sprawls around them.  It's almost a Korean urban archetype, that's dictated by the peninsula's topography.

I walked up the trail, and realized I'd only brought one small bottle of water, which I finished quickly.  I became thirsty.  And it was longer than I expected, although not that much… about 2 kilometers from the trailhead, I would guess.  But all uphill.  Very tiring.  I was hoping someone would be selling water at the top of the mountain.  If it had been Japan, there would have been vending machines — Japan has more vending machines than people, I think.  I did, actually, find a vending machine not far from the top of the mountain, but it was only for lousy instant coffee.  I didn't buy any.  I headed back down.

I misread a sign (and I wasn't carrying my guidebook or map, which is kind of a tendency of mine when I'm out being a random wandering tourist).  And so I got a little bit lost.  Not really lost.  I knew where I was, when I came to the next sign.  But it turned out I'd gone down the back of the mountain.  That meant I could either go back over the top of the mountain (4 km), or go around the mountain on a trail I saw on the map on the sign.  I opted for the latter, because it seemed less strenuous.

When I had walked back around the mountain in a bit of a circuitous way, I ended up well to the east of where I'd started, and so I had to walk through some neighborhoods to get to the subway station that was closest.  Net result:  I walked a lot — I would estimate about 15 km from subway station to subway station, total.  I bought some gatorade at a convenience store.  It was a good hike, and I took some pictures from the top of the mountain (and a small amount of video, but I'm running out of storage space for video).  I'll try to post some later.

Tomorrow, I'm going to Pohang, not far northeast of here, from which I take the ferry to Ulleungdo.  Ulleungdo is a small island in the middle of the East Sea (called the Sea of Japan on most western maps, but calling it that is against the rules while in Korea).   It's quite isolated, and I've long wanted to visit it.

Caveat: I carry a flower carefully

I was walking around Fukuoka two days ago. I saw the words “I carry a flower carefully” inscribed like a very short poem on the side of a big truck. I wanted to write an ode to the side of that truck. Or, maybe, I wanted to write an ode to postmodern commerce. Or, maybe, I wanted to think about writing an ode, and then stop, before the ode appeared, all wilted and unloved, like an uncarefully-carried flower.
Instead, I wrote the following in my little librito para pensamientos aleatorios.

pictureI imagine that in the back of that truck, there is a single flower. It is a bit limp, in the dark strangling air and the stiffling heat of the back of that truck. It is a single flower, strapped down tightly and carefully so that won’t slide around in its tiny flower pot.  It is alone in the otherwise empty cargo bay of that truck.
We all carry important things. Life has so many details.
Too many choices amid too much freedom can create its own class of suffering? I shake my head. The September sun is hot in Fukuoka. There are no clouds.
It seems like I have no goals. Isn’t life, and growing up, supposed to be about process? Sometimes the lack of goals can create feelings of anxiety, but I then try to remind myself that goals are hazardous. They are hazardous because… well, not precisely… but, they lead to disappointment.
I think sometimes that such a goallessness must seem odd, or even bewildering, to others who see it in me. I frequently make up goals and tell them to people, but these made-up goals are often shifting around like sand under the waves creeping up a beach. Sometimes I carry a goal that I have made up around with me, carefully, for a long time. But I never forget that I made it up to please someone, during some conversation. It’s an illusion.
People seem to find me difficult to understand.
Is it really suffering, having so much freedom? No. It’s maybe an irrational fear of emptiness. I carry a center of loneliness. I don’t comfort it. I simply carry it, carefully, and some day, in some metaphysical market, maybe I can trade it to someone who needs it more than I do. That person might give me some strong, desirable currency, or a kernel of enlightenment or understanding, in exchange.
The details in life matter, but they are so easy to neglect. Other people matter. I’m not always very good at connecting.

Caveat: Traveling Alone

Last night felt like a disaster. 

I was already feeling moody and gloomy after my ferry ride back to Korea.  Riding the ferry wasn't like a boat ride (which I love).  Because it was a high-speed hydrofoil (I've only ever ridden a ferry like that a few times before), you can't go out on the decks, you basically sit strapped in your seat for 3 hours.  I should have signed up for the 10 hour regular ferry, maybe.  Riding the ferry was like sitting in a taxying airplane for 3 hours.  And while on the ferry, they showed a really depressing tear-jerker movie about some little boys with cancer.  It was a Korean movie, with Japanese dubbing, but it was pretty easy to follow the plot.  Lots of emotional, teary moments.  I actually get pretty strongly affected by such things, I think.

So I was moody.  And I was returning to Korea, which was a bit like coming "home" but not really.  Partly because I'm always going to be an alien in Korea, no matter how long I spend here.  But also because I'm only going to be traveling around a bit, and then really leaving to return to the US.  So I was feeling melancholic because it was a bit like it was going to be a goodbye tour.

The hotel I found and checked into seemed alright, at first.   But it was really unpleasant.  I should have run the other way when I found a complimentary can of RAID in the closet.  And there was a neon sign outside the window.  And the air conditioner didn't work.  Etc., etc.  I'm too stubborn (or stingy?) to just write off the money spent on lodging and find something better, and I'm too shy, especially with my disappointing language skills, to argue about things or complain about things to the management.  Being a loud, complaining customer is really hard for me.

I got fixated on having some bibimbap for dinner (since I'd come back to Korea).  So I found a place that sold bibimbap and ordered some for take out (포장해 주세요…).  They clearly understood what I wanted, but apparently weren't the sort of place accostomed to giving take-out.  They tried to insist that I stay and eat, but… I was feeling melancholy, as I said, and was really fixated on just taking it back to my room and eating in my private gloom.  I was remembering many meals of take-out that I would get from the place near my apartment and take back to eat alone.  I really don't like eating in restaurants alone (except maybe fast food joints), I always feel uncomfortable.  That's why when traveling alone like I am, I tend to eat a lot of take-out and carry-out type things (although still trying to avoid too much fast food — at least American-style fast food). 

So anyway, the woman at the restaurant was actually having a conversation with me.  And at one level, I was surprised, because she was attempting to do it in Korean, and I was attempting to answer in Korean, and it was going back and forth, although with some (a lot of) confusion.  Why was this surprising?  Because this almost never happens.  It's one reason learning Korean is so difficult:  Koreans don't like to try to talk Korean with foreigners.  They must think it's impolite, or frustrating, or … who knows what.  It had already happened to me more than 5 times just in the short time between disembarking from my ferry and getting to this restaurant:  I attempt to start some kind of exchange in Korean, and I get this bewildered, puzzled look in response, as the look up and realize I'm a foreigner, and they either couldn't understand what I'd said, or that they could but it wasn't the expected English (which they often can't understand either, but at least they understand why they can't understand).

It's so different from Japan.  The Japanese always talk to you in Japanese.  Even after they see that you're a foreigner.  They only ever switch to English if you explicitly ask them to, or persist with several answers in a row in English.  Because of this, while in Japan I had more "conversations" (such as they were) in Japanese over 10 days than I could've had in Korea over several months.  That was another depressing thing about Korea, coming back from Japan.  How can I ever learn Korean when Koreans refuse to speak Korean with me?  Perhaps the contrasting Japanese behavior displays a sort of underlying cultural arrogance (it's a bit like the French are reputed to be, right?), but from a language-learner perspective, it makes things so much easier.

Here I was, then, having this "real" conversation in Korean with a Korean restaurant lady, and she's badgering me to eat in her restaurant, and I'm being stubborn because I have this fixed idea that I wanted to eat my bibimbap alone in my crummy hotel room.  So she starts chatting about other things as the kitchen staff prepares my take-out.  I'm American, yes.  I was in Japan, and came back.  And wow, most of it is in Korean.  I'm feeling mildly please.  Then she says, hey, you've got a bit of a paunch.  Pointing at my gut. 

Now… this is typically Korean, too.  This business of openly and flatly commenting on the physical characteristics of strangers.  Not always positively, either.  "Gee, teacher, you have a lot of gray hair," is something I've heard more times than I can count.  And not just students… strangers on the subway, or whatever.  I know and understand that for Koreans, it's a way to make conversation – once you get past the awkward first steps (the must-knows:  age, place of origin), all topics are open game.  It's not meant to be offensive, although I suppose even Koreans would agree it's kind of "low-brow" to make random, negative observations about the physical characteristics of just-met strangers.

So I grinned and agreed.  Too much bibimbap, I tried to say.  I don't think I said that right.  She seemed annoyed I'd returned to the topic of the food (which was a lost battle, for her).  And then my food was ready, and I said thank you very much and took it back to my hotel room.  They had their revenge, however — there was neither spoon nor chopsticks in the take-out bag (although it was quite delicious and was exactly what I'd been craving).  Nevertheless, I ate it guiltily.  Because of the paunch. 

I've always felt like I could stand to lose a bit more weight, and that just hammered it home.  I watch my quantity of food intake pretty carefully, normally, and I walk everwhere.  Living in Ilsan, I even fell into and out of and into and out of the habit of going jogging.  At my best, I'd go 3-4 times a week, other times, I'd miss a few weeks.

But I've maintained my weight pretty well since losing all that weight back in 2006-7.  Still, I could stand to lose more, right?  And, I've got a bit of a paunch.  Probably, traveling around, despite the huge amount of walking everywhere, I've gained a bit, because I don't have the same kind of discipline for intake:  I see something delicious in my touristic meanderings, and I buy it and eat it.

So that made me depressed, as I lurked in my stuffy, mildew-smelling hotel room and tried to go to sleep.  I was feeling all kinds of remorse: for deciding to leave Korea (although that's reversible); for failing to learn Korean (this is my hugest bugaboo, probably, given it was always one of the main "reasons" for coming here in the first place); for failing to watch my weight; for not just giving in to the restaurant lady and eating in her restaurant, like she wanted; for trying, yet again, to travel alone, even knowing that rarely works out well for me.

And why is it, anyway, that I travel alone?  Well, because that's who there is to travel with.  Michelle and I had many things we used to fight about.  But we were amazingly compatible, when traveling together.  Those were the wonderful times.  We never fought about things related to traveling:  if we fought while traveling, it was about other things (like that unforgettable knock-down-drag-out argument about Aristotle vs Plato on the drive back from Winnipeg to Minneapolis, one time).  We had the same way of traveling:  no plan, just go out and look and explore.  I miss traveling with Michelle very much.  And now, like most of my life, I travel alone.  Because traveling is too important to me, and too much fun for me, not to do it;  but traveling alone sometimes really depresses me, too.

Caveat: 지금 부산에서 있어요

I’m back in Korea, in Busan.  Still no wifi in my hotel room… I came wihtout a plan, kind of blase about where I would stay.  This place is a bit of a dump… then again, it’s cheaper than even the cheapest place I stayed in Japan.  So all values are relative, in travel-expense terms.
I’ll be in Busan for a few days.  I’ve scoped out some better possibilities for tomorrow night.  Meanwhile, I’ll save the long, detailed posts for later.  Byez.

Caveat: 9/9/9

Well, that's an easy date to remember.   I was going to go to the Fukuoka Asian art museum today but it was closed.  So I wandered around in the afternoon.  I saw the ACROS building (I'll post video of it when I can get a cheaper internet connection), it's actually a bit famous, architecturally.  ACROS is perhaps famous, but I actually recognized it from a cartoon — haha.  One of my favorite Japanese anime series is the absurdist Excel Saga, which is based in a slightly fictionalized (or a lot fictionalized) version of Fukuoka.   It's very strange to be recognizing a cityscape from a cartoon.   I also saw the Fukuoka Yahoo! Dome — yes, that Yahoo!, which is big in Japan.  And Fukuoka is a bit of a software city, maybe a sort of Japanese, subtropical Seattle?  And a big shopping mall.  And many Starbucks.  OK… more later.

Caveat: Fukuoka

This will be very short, because I'm on a public computer.  I'm in Fukuoka.  Tomorrow, I'm returning to South Korea by ferry.   Here, there are a lot of signs in Korean, actually… which makes sense, since it's basically Japan's border city with Korea… it's where the car ferries cross to Busan. 

Caveat: “The Bullet Train from Tokyo”

This is the other video I made where I started with the song and added the video bits I'd recently taken.  The lyrics to the song ("Hammering in my Head" from Garbage's 1998 Version 2.0 album) include the phrase "the bullet train from Tokyo" and I'd always imagined, someday, I would be on a bullet train from Tokyo, and lo, last Saturday, I was.  So I made this little video, and, fortunately, this time, youtube allowed my "third party copyrighted content" — so you all can see it. 

It's funny, because youtube communicates with me in Korean (not always very successfully, I might add, but I can get the gist).  I can't figure out how to change the setting that makes it do this.  Here's what it told me about this posting: 


회원님의 동영상 "The Bullet Train from Tokyo"에 UMG님이 소유하거나 라이센스 권한을 갖고 있는 콘텐츠가 있을 수 있습니다.

별도의 조치를 취할 필요는 없습니다. 그러나 회원님의 동영상에 미치는 영향에 대해 알고 싶으면 계정의 콘텐츠 ID 일치 섹션을 참조하시기 바랍니다.

– YouTube 고객지원팀

I like the "caveatdumptruck님" [honored caveatdumptruck].  And the "Sincerely" in English — what's with that?  I wonder if it's going through some kind of automatic translation software.

I'm still puzzling about what to do about my other, disabled video.  I'm searching for a different song that I like that I can match to it, that youtube might allow… but, since I deleted the raw source footage that I used to make the video (to make room on my hard drive), my options are limited.  Ah well.  It was no big deal, really.

Caveat: Mayhem in the park (no external soundtrack required)

I was walking back to my inn and had about a block to go, and came across some highly organized mayhem in a little park.  I think everyone was practicing for an upcoming parade or cultural exhibition.  There were kids, moms dispensing drinks and pointing kids to restrooms, men drinking water from large plastic buckets and giving each other commands, and lots of mayhemical musical instruments.  I'll let you make what you want of it, yourself – I was entertained.  When it ended, I walked back to my ryokan.  And here I am.

Caveat: DRM and antifandom

So, I made a video and tried to post it, with a song that I really like.  I didn't really think about copyright issues… I've seen so many homemade videos to preexisting songs on places like youtube, that I really thought the issue was resolved as a sort of "fair use."  Obviously not.  Youtube disabled the video I uploaded because it detected "copyrighted material" – ie the soundtrack to the video I made. 

My reaction:  1)  I have to find a different song.  2) I'll have to rethink adding songs to my videos, in general – but, my life has always had a soundtrack, and I was thinking how totally cool it was to be able to "share" that life-soundtrack with others, and now I can't always do that, which leads to 3) some weird, residual anger at the artist in question – why can't I use her song to show the feeling or mood I have associated with my homemade video?  Do I have to go through the rigmarole of getting permission?  It's not even a matter of money – I'm sure the money is insubstantial.  It's the inconvenience.  Do I want to remain a fan of an artist that makes my life annoying and inconvenient?  Maybe not.  Now, when I hear that song, instead of thinking the reflective, deep, philosophical thoughts I previously associated with it, I'll be getting grumpy thinking about DRM and why she wouldn't let me use her song on my amateur video, in what I thought was a thoughtful, respectful way, including crediting the song at the end (as I've been doing).  So I doubt that song will remain on my mp3, either.   Maybe that artist just lost a fan.   Is that what DRM (in all its manifestations) is supposed to do?

Youtube offered me the option of replacing my audio track.  But the whole point of the exercise was that I thought I'd come up with a video that matched the song in question in mood and atmosphere.  What are the chances I'd find such a song in their weird random library of "licensed" tracks?  Further, as youtube notes, "Note that advertisements may be displayed on videos that contain soundtracks from the AudioSwap library."  Oh, goody.  Not that I have anything against advertising… it's what makes most of the internet free, after all.  But, I just don't feel like attaching random advertising to this video.

Outcome:  the video won't be posted.  Sorry.

Caveat: Tourist

For day, I was a pretty conventional tourist.  I took a day trip out to Miyajima (also called Itsukushima) and Mt Misen.   I rode the streetcar out to Miyajima-guchi and then the 10 minute ferry across to the island, and walked around the famous main shrine complex.  I ascended to the top of the mountain for the fabulous view.  I saw deer and monkeys and many, many humans (including women climbing steep, several-kilometers-long mountain paths in 3 inch spike heels — ah, Japan!).  It was very hot.  I drank a lot of water along with randomly selected beverages from the ubiquitous vending machines, and ate a shrimp-cake yakitori (or something like that, anyway) on the way down at the end.

I don't really have a lot of patience with being a conventional tourist, but I tried.  It was worth seeing, I think — it was a sort of "just like the postcard" experience.  I made more video… I now have so much that I will have to delete some or I won't have room to store it on my computer.  I'm going to try to make one of shinkansen ride and one of my visit here to Hiroshima.  Maybe I'll work on it tonight. 

I actually kind of like not having internet access in my room.  It keeps me from lurking in there rather than getting out and exploring.  I've had that epiphany before, actually.  Having internet access where one sleeps is a mixed blessing, for someone like me who has issues with self-discipline. 

Caveat: Hiroshima

I am in Hiroshima.  About 3 blocks from ground zero.  Weird.

But… Very cool city.  You know how it is, with some places, you just know they will be cool?  I have always felt that way about Hiroshima.   And… yep.  I suppose that is why I decided I needed to include this place on my brief Japan tour.

My little ryokan (japanese style inn) that I reserved and arrived at has no wifi, so I had to go visit a PC bang (er… that would be the Korean name, not sure exactly what the correct slang term is here), for the first time since coming to Japan.  I will go scavenging for free wifi somewhere, tomorrow.    More later.

Caveat: Tokyo

I'm not really happy with this video, but I didn't spend much time on it.  I had trouble syncing the music track to it, but I really wanted to use that song.  Anyway, here's some random shots of Tokyo over the last few days.

Tomorrow, I leave on the shinkansen for Hiroshima.  I'll post from there, I guess.  I hit a few art museums, today.  Definitely worth it… I love art museums.  The visits got my mind working.   I'll see if I can write some thoughts or observations… but no promises.

Now I'm resting in my little hotel room and watching bad Japanese TV and trying to rememorize my kana.  It's weird, because over the past year I've been working on learning Korean hanja, which are the equivalent of the Japanese Kanji, and every time I try to read a sign, I pronounce the kanji in my mind in Korean, which doesn't work well with Japanese endings.  Not that I've really got that huge a vocabulary… I probably only have a hanja/kanji recognition of around 50 characters at the moment.

[Song with the video is Japanese Punk group Last Alliance's "Shissou"]

Caveat: After 3 days in Japan, I got around to planning my trip to Japan today

I had a productive day.  I found an ATM where I could withdraw directly on my Korean bank account (thus avoiding paying double foreign exchange premiums by having to use my American-based credit cards:  won-to-dollar then dollar-to-yen).  I finally found a hotel more to my liking (both cheaper and more akin to my sensibilities – still not a ryokan as I'd originally planned, but no longer a faceless business hotel either).  And I bought tickets for my train travel around Japan, thus making commitments to where I will visit and for how long.  I'm mostly going to focus on the southwest (Hiroshima and Kyushu) since my intention is to return to Korea by ferry.  Maybe on my next visit to Japan I can do Kansai and northern Honshu, and even Hokkaido someday!

Then  I went exploring, some more.  I saw the Imperial Palace and walked around Akihabara, the capital of the otaku ascendancy (otaku is a Japanese word meaning something like "geek" or "nerd," although not exactly). 

I think I've finally figured out why I've been having periodic headaches since coming to Tokyo — it's nothing so alarming or banal as air pollution or allergies — it's caffeine withdrawal, of all things!  I shoulda guessed.  I had a pretty reliable 3-4 cups a day (always before late afternoon so as to not interfere with sleep habits) while living / working in Ilsan.  And since coming to Japan I wasn't following that routine.  But today I had two cans of canned cold coffee around lunch time, and behold, no lingering headache.   Hmm..  I remember when Michelle used to have caffeine withdrawal headaches, too.  I guess it's a relatively harmless habit, as bad habits go.

Back to Top