Saturday, September 29, 2012

One that Brings Peace

Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.

 As I hide from my truth, run from all that I know, ignore the vibrations of my soul, my apartment gets tidied, my laundry gets cleaned, my radio gets played, soup stock gets cooked, books get read, and my heart remains frozen.   

In my soul, I know that I love to run.  I have known this all my life.  Despite my natural athleticism, my formative years held no encouragement in that area.  I remember the time I went to the gym and a boy hit me in the head with a barbell, telling me girls were not welcome.  When I awakened from the knock out, I never went back.  When I joined sports teams in school, the coaches focused on the fast girls, the tall girls.  Chubby, struggling girls didn’t warrant notice or assistance.  I never went back.  But today, I am a grown woman, and I know that my body loves the feel of running.  I am confident and strong after I jog.  There is a sway in my walk, an awareness of my sensuality, an appreciation of the world around me.  Lines are sharper, colors are more vivid, men are more handsome after my run. 

Buddha said that “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.”  Today, I take that and change the tiniest thing.  I know that better than a thousand hollow actions – the tidying, the cleaning, the cooking, the reading – is one action that brings peace.  For me, that action is running.
And now I ask you... what is that one action that brings peace for you?

A photo of me from a couple of months ago - jogging in Seongnam Park.  Look how happy I am!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gangnam Style

I didn't realize HOW popular this song was until Psy was on the Ellen show with Britney Spears.  (That was weird).  Anyway, the song is really subversive and is actually poking fun at some pretty ingrained parts of Korean culture.  Being perfect, beautiful, "seen" is rather like Hollywood, I suppose, but in a tiny country like the ROK, with a Confucian tradition and a whole lot of group think, the pressure to be perfect, beautiful, and seen is more intense. 

The Kpop "wave" has been led predominantly by Big Bang and Girls' Generation.  They are both groups that follow Korean kpop formula (perfect and beautiful with specific "roles" for each member of the group) and that are pretty strongly led by the nose by their companies.  They also are about as exciting as wonder white bread.  For the record, I do really like Big Bang.  I don't know whether they have better folks working with them or they are pushier about being more creative but they do have something the other bands don't - that  "thing" that stars have.

Back to the song... Gangnam is the expensive part of Korea.  It is like Beverly Hills - many of the Hallyu stars live there, it's the priciest real estate in the country, drinks can be up to $30 a pop at the club.  There is a VVIP room everywhere.  People go there to be seen.  They spend all their money on Louis Vuitton bags and have cheap underclothes.  They spend $7 or $8 on a cup of coffee in the right place and live on rice and kimchi.  The song itself is poking fun at these kinds of people.  Psy is dressed to kill, but where is he?  It looks like he's at the sauna where big wigs do business deals, but he's there with a couple of mobsters (the tattoos give it away).  He's supposed to be at the beach but he's really at a playground.  He is around horses, but what does he ride?  The Merry-Go-Round.  This is what makes it so subversive and fabulous.  It's just not DONE to say anything negative about the ROK and it's just not DONE to make fun of your "betters" (and that's how wealthy people are seen).  The fact that this older, imperfect, unattractive, and fat man is the face of Korea to the world is a just icing on the subversive cake.  (by the way, I think he's fabulous and attractive and NOT fat.... Koreans don't think that though.)

Thought you'd want a little background on this fabulous song.  Maybe Psy is the Bob Dylan / John Lennon of Korea?  Maybe Korea will actually break out of its plastic shell?  Maybe the ROK will realize that perfect is perfectly boring.  Maybe people will discover creativity here in the Land of the Morning Calm?

Time will tell.

(Photo from Han Cinema)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I am a fat woman

I'm having a bit of a rough time these days.

I've been losing weight like a fiend - 18.6 kilos so far.  (40.9 pounds)...  I put comparison pictures down below to remind myself of what's what.  I'm so different.  One is from after a loss of about 16 kilos.  Now I weigh only about ten pounds more than I did in college.  I'm getting my figure back.  I'm crossing my legs comfortably, My face is now oblong instead of round.  My girdles (yep I used to wear them) slide on like shorts.  I've gone down 4 sizes in clothes.

And yet...

And yet...

In the last few weeks, I've been told the following things (paraphrased for clarity):

Don't come to X - I'm embarrassed to be seen with you because you are fat and old.
Korean people hate fat people - we think you are terrible and stupid.
You are lazy.  I know because you are fat.
You will never be beautiful - you are a fat woman.
I'm embarrassed when people see me with you, but I endure because you are so smart, and you help me.
People think bad things about me if I am friends with you because you are ugly.
I don't care if you look normal in America or in South America, you live here.

Maybe folks were saying this to me before, and I didn't hear it... or maybe they are saying it to me now because I'm not as big as a whale anymore.  Either way, it looks like I've never been welcome here and people are finally telling me... or maybe I'm finally hearing what they have been saying all along. For whatever reason, today it hurts.

Well, I never was one to stay where I'm not wanted...

Do I think I'm perfect?  Nope.  Do I think I'm gorgeous?  Nope.  Do I think I'm finished with caring for my body?  Nope.  What I do think, though, is this: I'm exceedingly grateful for the hypothyroid medicine that puts me finally in sync with what regular people have as their normal, day-to-day experiences.  I'm exceedingly grateful to have found a personal trainer who kicks my butt and doesn't let up.  I'm exceedingly grateful that G*d has put the sensuality of dance in my life, joy from riding a bike, the confidence I get when I lift weights, and a great love for running up that hill in the forest. 

And while you - all of you that have said the things above - may be embarrassed and unwelcoming and prejudiced against me, there's not much to say to you.  I don't feel like fighting you.  I don't feel like proving myself to you.  In the end, the only thing I have to say to you is this:

You are a bigot.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Six Degrees of Separation

I wrote this piece last year, and am posting it here in honor of Steve Cross, an old friend from high school...


There is a bike path across the road from my apartment building.  I often ride it, smiling and nodding and anyanghasayo-ing the people who pass me.  There is always something to see – the people walking across the reflexology stones, the children running for butterflies with nets outstretched ala Inspector Gadget, the half a dozen dogs chasing each other and nothing at all.  It is where the people of my neighborhood fill their time.

Frequently I pedaled past a small offshoot, wondering where it led.  Yesterday I found out.  Along one side was a creek that flowed into the larger Tancheon River, on the other was a black rock wall with a trickling water fountain.  Arcing around it were a dozen spotlights.  I would see it in the dark I decided and tonight I did – it must be beautiful I thought.  Tonight I trekked down and around and found, sadly, no lights.  But it had beckoned me, and in pursuing, I found something else.  Life is what happens when we are making other plans.  So true.

At the bend in the path there is a bridge.   On six lanes above, cars fly past on their way to and from Seoul.  Tonight it had become a noray-bridge – a singing bridge.  Lights and an amplifier had been set up.  And there was a lone man with karaoke machine and saxophone playing songs of longing into the night.  All around, small town snapshots were visible – young lovers nuzzling by the river, teenagers trying too hard to be too cool, women talking about the things women talk about, the men arguing about whatever men argue about through a haze of blue smoke.

Neon lights winked through the swaying trees as the people clapped their hands on this Thanksgiving evening, Chuseok it is called.  I was about to leave when an old familiar song tapped me on the shoulder and took me home, to small town USA.  Stand By Your Man wafted through the night air in Bundang, South Korea.  I admit that I sang along.  Perhaps I was the only one there who knew the words, and I marveled even as my mind was halfway around the world in my hometown, Greenfield Ohio, and my friend Steve and his friend Georgette.  Why you might ask?  She’s not just any Georgette.  She’s the daughter of Tammy Wynnette, and that was her mother’s signature song.

Country music has always been a part of my life, but I never thought to find it under a bridge in South Korea, a lone man and a saxophone transporting me through the air to the place I grew up in.  Thank you, Tammy Wynnette.  Thank you for taking me home from so far away.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nothing Happens

It was one of those kind of evenings. Cinco de Mayo 2012. I was working at home and decided to join a friend at a festival downtown somewhere. I hadn’t had lunch, and my watch read *eep* 5 p.m. Damn. A couple of soft tacos and a bottle of water would be it. By the time we made it to Itaewon and the 12 step program, I realized – with a little nudging from my oh-so-insistent personal trainer – that I’d not exercised yet. You don’t get a day off from exercising was his message to me. Damn. My 12 step program includes not just abstaining from the thing that I’m addicted to, but filling the emptiness daily by taking care of myself through meditation, exercise, sleep, water, etc. I’d attended a meeting that morning (en EspaƱol no less), so I decided to skip the evening meeting so I could actively work *my* program. I’d meet them after for dinner and conversation.

I walked up the road – what is the name of it? Hamilton Hotel Road? Itaewon Main Road? I have no idea… but any expat in Seoul will know what you mean if you call it either one of these. I decided to follow my feet wherever they took me and explore. I got lost in that I don’t know exactly where I am, but I can see a landmark, so it’s all good kind of way. On quiet back streets, I bowed to the people I saw and looked around – chickens hanging in windows, pots of sage and impatiens and aloe sitting outside rundown buildings. I climbed hills so steep they become stair steps. As I got closer to the main road again, the scenery changed – an international market, no-pork restaurants, prayer rug store and Asalaam alaikum greetings.

Soon I realized it was just about time to meet up with my friends, so I hurried down the road, twilight turning to darkness, and worked my way through chain smoking businessmen, Stepford-wife styled women, gaggles of soldiers. Crossing the tiniest street, I saw a woman pushing a man in his wheelchair. From his wheelchair, the man was pushing their suitcase. That is, they were trying to do this, trying to move through the crowd on the bumpy brick sidewalk. It was the lip of the curb that stopped them. It rose a good two inches above the sidewalk proper.

Can I help you? I asked them. Helping trumps meeting people for dinner I think. They gratefully said yes and we walked along, her still pushing him, me pushing their (heavy) suitcase, until we found our way to their hotel. Do you live here? Yes, for four years. Are you visiting? Yes, we are Dutch. Oh welcome to Korea! Have you been traveling a lot? Yes we just came from North Korea. *blink blink* Really? Is anyone not fascinated with North Korea? These nice Dutch people have movies. They were in the north YESTERDAY.  Whoa!

We exchanged numbers and names and phone numbers (my cell, their hotel). We’re having lunch on Tuesday. Perhaps one of the Muslim places I discovered? No matter. X and Y have promised to share their videos. I’ve promised to share my adopted city.

Nothing simply happens.

(Photo - my time teaching in Oregon.  One of the Saudi students put this on my head.  "You are Muslim in your heart" he said to me.  No disrespect is intended)

I met with the lovely X and Y.  The discussion was fascinating.  They had brought propaganda from No. Korea with them.  Here's what I feel I can publish safely:  The No. Korean factories they saw were shut down for maintenance when they were there.  They were not permitted to watch some young girls practicing for a dance performance.  They weren't permitted alone at any point.  When they started speaking Dutch, their driver was changed within a very short time.  All the propaganda had very fat leaders talking to gaunt workers.  The two folks who met with me were really lovely people.  They did not say anything bad about North Korea.  They talked about how confusing it was at times.  But that is normal for cultural differences, no?