Friday, May 22, 2009

The Finer Things

I came to a startling realization about a week ago. This year long adventure has reached its last two months, and I am going to fly home and leave Korea, leave this culture, its people, its beauty. Thus, I have recently endeavored to enjoy the finer things that Korea has to offer, and I thought I would tell you about a few of my favorites.

1) Really good tea. This picture was taken in my favorite tea house in Insadong, Seoul. The tea house overlooks Insadong market, one of the coolest and culturally protected places in Seoul. Tree branches hang overhead and grass grows around small fountains on the floor of the house, all creating an incredible vibe, calming even the most frantic minds and giving one the chance to get in touch with his inner-self.

2)Spring. It's an incredibly beautiful time to be in Korea. Now that Spring has arrived the flowers are out in full bloom, the temperature is just right, the clouds seem a long way off and only stop by for occasional afternoon showers.

3)Culture. I have made it a point to enjoy Korean culture, I am trying to make it to culturally significant spots around town and around the Country before I leave. It's so easy to get locked into a routine that doesn't allow for much diversity, and it's even easier to choose the western fast-food restaurants over traditional Korean ones. But there really isn't anything like eating in the middle of a packed traditional Korean market, filled with all the smells, sights and sounds of such a unique place. This picture was taken at one such market in Seoul, it's name escapes me but it is one of my favorites.

4)"Konglish," or Korean English. There are some remarkable examples of Konglish all over Korea, but some of the best are in my school. One would think that, if a native speaker was on-hand (as I am,) it would be smart to have him look over things written in English before they were printed and posted on the walls of your school. This sentiment is apparently not shared by my principle, as we have some stunning examples of Konglish exhibited in our newly constructed English zone.

5)Clam-hunting. This is an exciting event that, until last weekend, I had not known existed in Korea. My friend Billy's homestay dad (Mr. Jo) is apparently an avid hunter of clams, and I received an invitation to go last weekend with Billy and Mr. Jo, so of course, I went. We drove two hours to the Western Coast of Korea, a place called Daecheon Beach. The weather was cold and rainy, and the wind had picked up near the beach to create a difficult set of circumstances for our clam hunt. We struggled against the wind and down to the beach and Mr. Jo proceeded to show us the art of catching clams. It went like this:

Step One, dig the top layer of sand away.

Step Two, look for small holes used by the cylindrically shaped clams and pour a generous helping of salt over the hole.

Step Three, wait for the foolish clam to take the bait and when he surfaces, grab him and utter a cry of victory.

This operation worked well and was surprisingly rewarding. There were other clam hunters on the beach with whom we engaged in a kind of silent competition, each of us trying to gain the upper hand and find an area with an abundance of clams. When they noticed us most of them would stare open mouthed for a few minutes, thinking how incredibly odd it was to see two tall, blond haired Americans digging for clams on the beach in the cold. Before we knew it we had spent three hours digging and grabbing clams on the rainy, windy, cold beach. We left with just over 40 of the strange looking creatures in our bucket, and that night we feasted on them at the Jo's apartment. Mission accomplished.

Mr. Jo and I: Clam Hunters.

So these are a few of the ways that I have been trying to enjoy Korea, to soak it up for the last two months. It is my goal to capture as much of what makes Korea unique in the next few weeks as possible, so be expecting more to come in a similar vein.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Of Expression, or, the Dynamo of Volition

I’m not sure how life is supposed to be lived, how the veil of familiarity is to be lifted day after day to provide the kind of soul gripping experience that I so desire. And I wonder if we aren’t cheating ourselves, living only in one realm of life, only one corner of the vineyard, when the grapes taste far sweeter on the other side.

Here’s what I mean.

I was thinking the other day about limitations, and how I feel as though I am limited to experiencing only part of the vast goodness that I am capable of experiencing; like how we only use a small percentage of our brains, only instead of the cerebrum I am talking about the soul. I find myself caught in a certain form of expression, recently its been academic, as I was busy applying to 12 law schools and have since been writing supplementary material for them. But that form of expression, perhaps every form of expression, is by its very nature limiting. Without another way in which to express myself I grow dull and weary and tired. Hardly the romantic conception of life I had when I was young.

I love the way that Picasso put it, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I might learn how to do it.” What a brilliant thing. He finds himself directly limited by the breadth of his own experience so he attempts to move beyond that obstruction by simply doing that which he doesn’t know. Following this truth let me say that I have come to believe that in order for life to take hold of our spirits in abundance, in order that the closed rose of the soul might open in the sun to its fullest glory, we must find a way to express ourselves on a variety of diverse fronts. I am limited by the academy’s strict prose so I move to the flowing rhythm of poetry. I am limited by the use of an established vernacular so I move to the never fully established voice of art. I am constrained by brush and color palate so I move to the unconstrained depths of music, from whose well I often draw a voice for my soul. And shouldn’t that be our goal, the unfettered expression of nothing less than our own souls? To impede expression is to impede progress and growth and everything that you and I have it in us to become. I am beginning to wonder if the great sin that we fall into as we grow old isn’t necessarily the pursuit of money of other material things, but the unintentional limiting, confining, and constraining of the very expression of our spirits, of our very nature.

I can’t tell you how challenging that idea has been for me lately, and to tell you the truth nothing scares me more than impeding progress, be it mine, God’s, or society’s. This concept is one of the things that drove me while I was in Africa. Faced with college level classes to teach and few resources I wanted to hand off the assignment to someone more capable, but I could not rid myself of the nagging voice telling me that to drop that responsibility would be the first step toward stagnancy. It’s a slippery slope, the more the easy road is taken the more it becomes the only road. I can’t tell you how frightened I am of it. To be totally transparent, that’s one of the reasons that this time in my life is so difficult, because if I am not accepted by any of these law schools, these great judges of human potential, then I put one foot on the road toward every 50-something adult who asks himself where the time has gone and why he did not do more.

To put a capstone on this thought, I was listening to an interview with an incredibly successful businessman, a man who had made his millions and reached the top of his game. The interviewer asked a variety of questions relating to how and why he had been so successful, and towards the end of the interview asked the businessman what he wished he had learned sooner. The man’s reply was incredibly illuminating. He said that he wished that someone had told him that when you reach the top, when you summit the peak of material success, there’s nothing there. Nothing. He went on to talk about how he had been let down by this fact, and had come to terms late in his life that his priorities had been a bit out of place. How profound! How tragic. This is why I am convinced of the need to pursue a dynamic existence, one predicated on the belief that things can be better, expression can and must be realized in as many forms as possible, and the onset of a stagnant existence must be met by the uncomfortable actualization of expanded knowledge and abilities.

I readily admit to my own shortcomings, to my own lack of insight and understanding; I am a traveler on the dusty and mired road of life just as you are. My thoughts are always open to reproof and correction, and I welcome it. Thank you for reading this confused conglomeration of thoughts, and thank you Luther (my future grandfather in law) for reading this blog, lets smoke some cigars when I come home.