Writing Prompt #3

Write from the point of view of a stack of paper a few inches from the shredder…

The metallic jaws gnashed together as the sleek, dirtied paper slid inside. The wrinkled hands feeding it in didn’t even flinch. They methodically picked a piece from the pile next to me. Without Hesitation. GGGRRRZZZZ, it roared. The hands, mere ashen, dull from what may have been years of cigarette smoking, a white tan line existed where a ring once rested, puckering up the chubby flesh around it. Sad hands. Sad hands that were about to reach the end of the pile beside me. GGGRRRZZZZ, the hellish droning continued. I could feel the air thinning around me, next, my entity , my purpose of once carrying important data would be extinguished with one swoop of this hand. The slot would appear where I’d meet my untimely end. The razor edges would grip me, I’d be split into unfathomable pieces. Back to the earth. Back to where I came from.

Youth

DSC_0111-001Remember how we used to

impact each others lives;

youth clutching tightly

holding on, dependent, joyous;

without realising life’s many moments

would diffuse and disentangle and splinter;

we’d become like driftwood, coasting aimlessly

without direction, without weight,

into the streams of our days.

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© 2015 Cindy Smith

Break

We took a break from each others lives,

like shards of light splintered through the trees,

separated only by shadows.

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© 2015 Cindy Smith

Heart

My eyes devise

a certain scene

when my heart isn’t seeing

My ears deceive

a certain truth

when my heart isn’t listening

My hands wonder

a certain deception

when my heart isn’t feeling

My mind contorts

a certain reality

when my heart isn’t open

All that remains,

is the heartfelt pursuit of truth

This spoke to me – I completely identify with the need to find balance and this author took the words right out of my mouth – her fight to find equilibrium when she feels herself to be a complete contradiction.
“It’s not about all our selves being at constant war with each other. It’s about being ok that we have different selves to begin with”

Broken Light: A Photography Collective

Photo taken by contributor Carrie Hilgert, a 36-year-old photographer and self-portrait artist from Northeast Kansas. After venturing into digital photography, she became interested in documenting her life with self portraits. This became particularly helpful when her life started to fall apart due to depression. All her other creative outlets left her, but she could always process her very dark feelings with self portraits. While she is doing much better now, she maintains compassion for those going through these hard things and hopes that her photography can give an honest insight into something that makes most people feel very isolated and alone.

About this photo: “I wonder why it took me so dang long to accept my own duality. I tell people as a joke, that I am a contradiction to myself. But there have been some really rough times because of that extreme nature. I spent a lot of years trying…

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Writing Workshop #2

Here is a piece written by Massimo Park, whose blog you can find here – Rumi Supertramp. I don’t want to speak for Massimo, but he is an exceptional writer who has guided and motivated the group throughout. Fantastic, but I want to see more Mass!

             Halmunee and the sky – Massimo Park

“Can’t you rebook it? I’ve got teaching at 4.”

             “He’s fully booked until next month. If she doesn’t get in to see him she’ll have to wait another month.”

             “Fine. I’ll reschedule my classes, ” I said through gritted teeth, thinking I would have to reschedule my entire week.  MY week. Why do I have to do this? Why don’t my parents take her to the specialists? After all, it is my mother’s mom. The endless appointments with doctors and specialists for my grandmother’s heart problem was taking its toll on my busy schedule. I was trying to complete my Master’s degree and hold down a full-time job tutoring students.

             “Come on halmunee!” I said impatiently as she carefully measured each step of the stairs. Immediately, I was overcome with guilt and I offered her my arm and waited patiently for her to descend the steps centimetres at a time, while I seethed inside. Once we were inside my car, she apologized for troubling me all the time and said she should die quickly so she wouldn’t have to burden me anymore.

             “No, halmunee, guenchun-ha” using one of the few words i knew in Korean, the all-purpose catch word “guenchun-ha” meaning “it’s ok, it’s alright”, yea, everything was ok, everything was alright, but then, why was i clenching the steering wheel so hard?

Why did I dream about completing my Master’s degree and finally being free of my family to escape to a job overseas, ironically in Korea, the land where my family came from?

I didn’t want to deal with my family’s problems anymore. My family’s problems! Not mine!

             I dropped her off at the apartment and told her I would pick her up tomorrow for the appointment at four. I went straight to work, running late, as usual.

             The next day, I knocked on the door to her apartment. I knocked louder, but I didn’t hear her slow shuffling feet and the soft inquiring voice, “Who is it?” even though she knew it was me. She was terrified of somebody forcing their way in. I thought it was some kind of remnant reflex from her experiences during the Korean War, but perhaps all old people feel so vulnerable.

             I opened the door with the spare key i had and as I entered her tiny apartment with the tv and sofa and the Catholic paraphernalia hanging all over the walls, I ignored the loneliness that carpeted the whole apartment. I entered her bedroom.

             “Halmunee?” I called out quietly, for she appeared to be sleeping. She was on the bed, her face set like a grim mask, like one of the traditional wooden masks carved by villagers in Korea that seemed to be smiling and yet grimacing at the same time. I approached her bed and touched her arm, “Halmunee?”

             She didn’t move and I noticed now she wasn’t breathing. I’d never learned how to take someone’s pulse, so I put my ear to her heart, and I heard the sky.

Writing Workshop

I have decided to upload some of the writing our group has produced over the last while. Basically, each of us contributes an idea for a prompt, be it visual, written or musical. This particular prompt was one where we wrote about someone with a pathology where they thought they were food. Here is what Lee came up with:

‘Scrambled eggs’ ~ Lee Frosler

I have to be so careful with every single little movement I make.
If you crash into me I will crack and break.
I’m two eggs short of an omelet, and a sprinkle of scrambled reasoning is the flavor of my noggins seasoning.
I drool into my pillow at night, everything’s a nightmare; I’m hard pressed not to explode in fright.   I incubating vultures, terrordactyls and dragon’s steam in my dream, insanity circles, I’m lost in a place you’ve never been.
A few cracks on my head, and now I’m treading on shells. Crunch, clack, clack, crunch- don’t get your panties in a bunch. Look! I’m a bird, I’m a plane- I’m a flying crash course in insane.
Your voice crackles like hot oil, and your face looks like a frying pan, your wife’ ass looks like spam. Does it look like I give a damn? No! I don’t want any of your stupid jam.
Stop! You want to whisk me the wrong way with your words, go find something else to beat; I’m not a piece of meat you freak.
Where’s my toast? My precious piece of toast… oh there you are, oh swear you’ll never leave me, you’re all I have. These fatty sausages, and grimy bacon imposters, they all want a piece of me, but I’d rather just stay here with you my precious piece of toast.
“Hey! That’s my toast asshole!”
“ It’s ok Gertrude; we just want to give you a quick bath.”
“ I want my toast! Why can’t I bath with my toast?”
“ You can’t bath with your toast.”
“ Just let him bath with his toast.”
“Ok Gertrude.”
“Of course it’s ok, give me that… I must bath with my toast; do you know what sort of a mess you would have on your hands if I were to crack and my toast wasn’t there?
Don’t worry toast; they can’t separate us, not for all the sanity in the world. Wait, what’s my name again? I’m overly easy to forget, Benedict maybe? Oh never mind… Look! The sunny sun is up! Look toast, it’s so beautiful.
When I am born toast, I might have to leave you, but I will never forget you.

~~~~~The end~~~~

 Thanks Lee!

THIS is what happens when you cycle in Munsan

I live a few kilometres from the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea) in Munsan, a small town on the end of the Gyeonggi-do subway line, unforgettably marred with peculiarities that might forgo the local, but draw my curiosity. The most appealing aspect being the contradiction between extensive walks in the surrounding hills used by civilians – families, men, woman, children – and the remnants of a Korea at war some 50 years ago. Concealed pathways lead to dishevelled bunkers or misshapen trenches; mass storage areas enclosed into the hill tops for what I imagine were camouflaged shelter to tanks. Rusted shells of armed vehicles immersed in the hills; so deeply nestled in the earth and caked in dirt, sticks and leaves it is hard to distinguish their alien-ness, decrepit and decaying into the soil. The discrepancy continues – a tree-lined dirt road skirting the farms marked with lanterns separates into two avenues ending in small yet beautiful temples. A few kilometres away a hill stands, where a few fortunate dead view  the farms below from their graves – a status symbol even in death for the Korean people.

As I walk amidst all the contradictions, silence and mystery of these hills,  the temples, the bunkers, a war, I am simultaneously in awe yet stupefied – all of this a point for which I have no reference. Yet what comes to mind at this moment is one of my students, a young precocious and forceful individual who has not yet developed her ability to name the things around her in English. She resorts to using the word “this” whilst pointing at books, pens, pencils, her shoes and always utters “Teacher this.., teacher this, this…” in trying to obtain my attention. And walking through the pine needled paths, naked trees and fallen leaves, inhaling Springs crisp air, I find myself repeating the word “this”. This. This. This. All of this, signified and differentiated by the man given name of things, whilst remaining from a single source.  In my mind, completely redundant and serving only to detract from it’s original beauty. Taoism refers to the 10,000 things from which everything is named – yet reminds students of this unity.

It helps students of Tao to recognize the underlying connection and unity between all people and all animals and all plants and all things and all ideas. By recognizing the many manifestations, it sometimes brings us back to an awareness of the unity from which they all have sprung.

This right here, this moment, this breath, this falling leaf, this tree, this stick, this mound of sand; in all these contradictions of the mountains and hills of Korea, surrounded by this quiet, this graves, this rusted iron, natures changing season, temples freshly painted.. all of THIS. I have been using her words to draw my attention into the present as I wonder, as I think of it all. All of it will change and whither, everything that exists here will change and all that will be left is this moment, this truth. This.

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Packing for Home

I am packing up my life in Korea. I have exactly 2 months left as of today, and am in preparation for the final move to South Africa from what has been my home for the past 2 years and 3 months, excluding the 4 months I spent in SA in limbo between contracts. I can’t seem to finally seal up these two boxes and actually post them. I just keep haphazardly taking out what is inside and putting it back in again, and then, forgetting what I have packed, and have to start the process all over again. It’s odd to box up 2 years that have changed me so much. Somehow it feels like the boxes should consist of more, be of more significance since all I will have are memories and changes that I won’t know how to relate to anyone back in SA. The underside of travelling is the reality that I may not see so many of the wonderful people who have touched my life. I wish I could take pieces of you – more than just memories and thoughts, and carry them around with me, wilful reminders of our experiences, our happy times, our shared loneliness and inspiration, our long conversations in beautiful attempts at connection in disconnected times. How often can you sit back and realise that half of the people you have shared a challenging and mad year with live in other foreign countries across this expansive earth – The States, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom. How can I pack up how much you all mean to me, how much you have shared with me, and much I have learnt from you? And Korea, I can’t even speak of you. The extent of lessons and a life extraordinary, so foreign and divorced from my world, but now so indivisible from my being. How do I pack this ALL into 2 small boxes?

A new School Term

It’s a fresh Monday after a 5 day vacation, a new month, season and semester at School. I have new classes, new students and a new curriculum. This change is so welcomed after a period of busyness that somehow felt like I had stopped in time, as if my feet became so heavy I had stopped moving, yet the tide of days kept me moving forward. Although times were fun, filled with challenges like writing workshops, (boring) gym, seeing old friends and making new ones, defying winter by hiking in snow but all the while going through the motions of keeping busy without completely stopping to pay attention. Now is the time to stop, take stock, and implement new routines. Morning runs or cycles, meditation, morning pages and yoga. Spring missions to plan – cherry blossom festivals, going home, a potential visit to Cambodia…

Bless you Spring and Change for the new life you bring.

A dash of Fiction

Work in Progress #1. Please give feedback…

(I know you have experienced this before, we all have. Those moments that lock you eternally in time. Those moments that feel so real they might never end. Those moments where life and love feel so tangible, it is hard to not sink your teeth into their very flesh. This is one of those moments.)

We lay in bed. Our feet and legs locked together. Our bodies moulded to each other to fit like lock and key. Your arms loosely wrapped around my torso, and mine gently cushioning your head. I held your hand squeezing your fingers in mine, in moments, breaking the grasp to touch your face, smooth your hair. Our eyes wide and sparkling like sea scapes burning in a sun beam. Our mouths curled in half moon smiles when we weren’t kissing, when we weren’t laughing, when we weren’t talking about our lives, our secrets, our dreams. Moments of recognition that were so real and tangible they pulsed and popped like effervescence on my skin. A twosome, a pair. Full lipped smiles as warm as Spring’s sun. Whole bodied kisses that stretch to eternity in a moment. Those green days of love held us in infinity, we reached that timeless space we felt only we would, should and could ever reach. We felt invincible in that embrace. The whole world slipping away from us; away from our minds, away from our thoughts, with the only hint of reality being that infinitesimal knot, barely discernible. But you know the one. Hidden in the expanses your mind and imagination, concealed in the gut; almost unrecognizable by will itself, of wanting to ignore it, of wanting to not listen… That this too will fade.

So it is true, my students are MY teachers

10 months ago, I could never have foreseen the place I am now in. A year in Public School had left me drained, sad and disillusioned about children and teaching. My plans to teach English around the world had been squashed by a bad experience involving a controlling psycho co-teacher and a mass of unruly children. This year, I have been teaching at a private school and have learnt more than I anticipated. My depth of patience and acceptance has grown. Each student is vastly unique in strengths and abilities which I witness and mould. I wait and watch and learn how to handle each child’s personality and sensitivity, know when to push or surrender; when to laugh, and give up and accept that some times, the students just are not going to co-operate, they don’t feel like paying attention, retaining the language, nor stopping their chatting. And with that comes and immense sense of love for the students, how can you not love that which you accept and nourish everyday?

I am their TEACHER, a leader, a role model, someone they look up to, someone they don’t like everyday, but I am someone they see who influences how they learn to interact and view themselves. I don’t know if I have ever had as much responsibility as that before. These precious people are in my care. Too often I have looked back on my own teachers of school past, and felt disdain and unhappiness for cruel words or unfair treatment, the mind of a child is so susceptible, so fragile. And so in loving them, I feel a deeper and greater love for myself, understanding my own faults as a child with more clarity, beholding myself as a child, able to see where my parents went wrong, how their harsh words bruised me, how I noticed the same anger rising in me as would my dad, and being able to see it, be aware of it, and to stop and replace it with a kindness and love I wished I had had bestowed on me. So children, with utmost gratitude and appreciation I say thank you, and I love you, you imperfect little beings, you have taught me more than I could ever have asked for. Bless your buddha hearts.

working through the nonsense

This was written 5 months ago. Might as well post it.

i recall this conflicted state i wrote of at the beginning of my blog. This space of arguing forces pulling and pushing, of yin and yang toiling over for domination. and hoping to find some harmonisation in these extremes, a common ground where i am not so up and so down, which may be impossible. I think the truth lies in embracing the radical changes, perhaps I am just an extreme individual and the only balance is to hold and honour each as merely a different aspect of myself, and nurture them, instead of wondering why I feel this way? it gets pretty confusing in here.

I struggle with just wanting to put all of it down, put ‘myself down’, so that i can just get up and focus on something else, something way more important, find some way I can be of service, some way of contributing to something bigger… I reconcile that I give 6 hours a day to children, teaching them, not only english, but about the world, about themselves, about how amazing they are…

now i am sitting back in a place of mild depression. it has been clouding for 3 weeks now (or has it been longer?) weeks of inertia creeping in, weeks of pushing out those screeching negative thoughts, the sign posts of a hyper-vigilant mind that something inside is not right, weeks of demotivation, weeks of being stuck, weeks of thinking of the past. weeks of wondering how on earth i am going to survive another 7 months of teaching.

Let me not forget the biggest question nagging – what the hell does my life mean anyway? where is it going? what to do i want? and so much time spent on reading, self help book, the power of now, learning how to be an individual, to be more “me” when all I essentially want to do, is not be me, is not be a contracted sense of individuation, to blow out, extinguish, and join the guru crew…

and then begin the next round of thoughts, instructions even – eat well, exercise more, practise positivity, gratitude, focus, intention…. and all the brain does is laugh and nod. knowing. you have no idea. these dark words that slice and bruise and cut the synapses with their depressive snare, like cancer in the brain, feel a little stronger than your positivity, gratitude and intention. and i know. i could be anywhere in the world, doing anything in the world, and this fog would still be here.

i only hope to lose myself and…

extinguish.

My piece of North Korea

In light of the death of Kim Jong Il, the ‘Great Leader’ of North Korea, I felt it was time to conclude my blog entry about the DMZ and express my utter fascination with a country ruled and ruined by dictatorship. I have lived just south of North Korea, located on the last subway stop before Imjingak and the entrance to the DMZ for almost 2 years and feel an intrinsic part of Korea, a comfortable alien simultaneously welcomed and isolated.  I have a great connection to this place, if not for the hanoks and palaces that strike me with a sense of recognition and awe each time I see them as if I lived here in a former life, then it is an affinity for the East that I have always held and am finally nurturing. This is why I am here, why I am exploring, and why I might stay for years to come.

The legendary DMZ, or Demilitarised Zone, has been one of the most recommended locations of interest in Korea. The DMZ serves as a divide between the North and South, is 4 kilometres wide and 250 kilometres long cutting Korea in half at the 38th Parallel. It is the most heavily militarized border in the world,  due to the lack of a peace treaty and what remains is an armistice – technically the two Korea’s are still at war.

I find war and politics particularly disheartening, but since I began reading a popular novel among foreigners entitled Nothing to Envy, my interest in North Korea, the Korean war and communism has grown. I have acquired a stomach for it and since visiting the DMZ, my curiosity has only grown.

I met my tour group at Imjingak, the last stop before the actual partition between South Korea and the DMZ demarcation line. Several monuments have been erected here including the Memorial Alter which signifies comfort to the 10 million South Korean people who were separated from their families in the North.

Accompanying the monuments is the The Freedom Bridge, which connected the North and South; and bore passage to some 13,000 war captives returning home and rejoicing their freedom when a cease fire was decided in 1953.

Finally, an observation deck has been erected, fitted with binoculars allowing tourists a panoramic view of the greenery present beyond the wire fences.

Imjingak acts as memorial for the war, but is also a physical symbol for hope of a future unification between the two countries and consequently receives about 3 million visitors a year.The most elusive element as a reminder of the war, hardships and the millions of deaths 60 years ago, is that hosts parents, children, families as well as local and foreign tour groups. A small theme park has been constructed with iron and plastic merry-go-rounds, over-sized boat rides and bumper cars, perhaps embodying peace and new beginnings but ultimately serves as a great paradox. Somehow war and playgrounds seem incongruent, if not jarring on the senses.

After viewing Imjingak, our tour group crossed the bridge to the actual DMZ – the road is blockaded by several military personnel at various check points, adorned with barb wire fences and passport checks lest we forget where we are.

Our first stop was the third tunnel. This is one of four known tunnels said to be made by North Korea in an attempt to infiltrate the South. This particular tunnel was found in 1978, is 1,635 kilometres in length, 2 metres wide and 2 metres in height. It is estimated that an army of thirty-thousand soldiers could pass through the tunnel within an hour. The tunnel is heavily guarded and no photography is permitted. The tunnel ends with 3 blockades, securing the entrance from the North. The walls have been highlighted where dynamite and explosives were used to create the tunnel. A further 7 more tunnels are said to exist along the border from the east to the west of South Korea. This information has come from defectors from the North and these tunnels whereabouts have not yet been established.

Our next destination on the trip was my personal favourite, Dora Observatory.  It is the northernmost observatory in the South where one can see North Korea’s Propaganda Village – Kijŏngdong – although it is known as Peace Village in the North. Here we viewed farmland, the bronze statue of Kim-Il Sung, and finally the North Korean flag, protruding awkwardly from the bland buildings and barren farms, flying proudly as the world’s third highest flagpole, a sight of utter contradiction amidst the desolate farmlands.

The significance of this village is that, as the name suggests, it was built to encourage South Koreans to defect to the North in the 1950’s. However, observation from the South suggests that the village is actually uninhibited. The buildings can be viewed through binoculars and appear to be empty, void of glass in the windows as well as actual rooms with furnishings. Vacant shells lacking the life and activity that human presence brings. I did however, spot 3 villagers walking aimlessly down one of the dirt roads through my binoculars, their slight figures almost unidentifiable at that distance – their only the sense of detection being  the movement of their swaying arms. Their existence was no doubt, an attempt to create a sense of life and action, but failing in contrast to the naked buildings. Although many of thousands have visited this site, and have viewed this portion of North Korea, it will forever be a highlight not only of my stay in Korea, but also in my life. The notion that I got a glimpse of this mysterious place – this enigma, this ghost of a county will always leave an impression on my mind and psyche.

We then visited Dorasan Train Station. This station used to unite the two Korea’s at the top of the Gyeonggui line, but due to the tensions between the countries, the line is no longer used. It was recently restored and remains open to tourists and as yet another token of impeding unification. It is admittedly, a strange sight – a bare train station with it’s destination headline as “Pyeongyang” – the capital of North Korea.

We returned to the location of the third tunnel again to watch a short clip on the DMZ. As the stretch of land has been uninhabited for the past 50 years, it remains untouched which has provided nature with the opportunity to flourish and grow unperturbed despite the occupation of military along the actual borders. The video talked of unification and gave evidence that the tunnels had been built by the North, based on the position of the tunnels and how they were excavated by stipulating that the angles and positioning of the explosives could only have come from the North. It has, in fact, been debated who was tunnelling under the earth in order to siege, and naturally the North blamed the South, and the South the North.

Finally we left the DMZ, crossing the wired bridge and returned to Imjingak. I was left with a heavy impression of a history I will never truly understand despite my relationship with the country,a sense of excitement for having come close to something so foreign and a strange sense of sadness for the people who live their lives under the rule of dictatorship.

Upon reading the novel I mentioned, Nothing to Envy, and watching several documentaries, I have tried to pin point my obsession with this country, this quiet, voiceless nation.  Foreign entry is controlled and remains under high scrutiny for any tourist or journalist. Media within the country itself is hindered and controlled by the manipulation thereof – the only broadcasts allowed are ones exalting the ‘Dear Leader’ or the supremacy of the North Korean regime.  Media into the country is prohibited and banned; and anyone caught indulging in any outside of the government regulated media will suffer the enormous consequences by being imprisoned in the gulags or concentration camps – ending the already warped sense of freedom the civilians have. But there at the Dora Observatory, it stood before me – North Korea, the flag atop its spire, flying high and proudly in the small Propaganda Village.

I can’t stretch my imagination far enough to fathom how I could identify with people so sheltered and hidden from the world. I can’t begin to imagine what the mindset of someone subjected to dictatorship must think. The psychological repercussions of being habitually told what to do, how to do it and what to think that all sense of autonomy no longer exists. And if it does, it has been so deeply buried in fear, that any sense of independence returning must be repressed.  Somehow the fact that they have no knowledge of my existence is the most intriguing fact, not simply how I could never be able to relate to them, even though I am aware of their lives on a whole, but more importantly that they could never relate to me, as they are completely oblivious to my life and have no frame of reference from which to draw. The sense of connection and empathy feels severed by this great unknown. They are not aware of me, they are not aware of us.

And now, Kim Jong Il is dead. On the 17th of December 2011, this feared, sometimes revered man has fallen and left his people. News reports say that the military is on high alert as a totalitarian state void of their autocratic ruler is prone to power struggles and rebellion. His son, Kim Jong Un is to be his successor, although there is speculation of his competency as a young and inexperienced man. After discussing the matter with a Korean colleague, it seems there are many options. One of which is that the Western educated Kim Jong Un, one who has been exposed to the benefits of Capitalism, might slowly change the ideals of North Korea, similar to that of China, a country that is evidently reaping the rewards of economic growth. Another idea is that his lack of experience might end in a loss of power. However, this country’s mysterious nature will continue to linger as it heads into darker times, and of the reality of the situation, we do not know. It simply is a very interesting time to be living here.

RAMBLINGS

We are always seeking another version of ourselves,

some order of great perfection,

by our own right,

as if we know,

as if we can know the way,

when we are so inherently flawed and misguided by our own sense of separation.

Love will show me the way and Grace will get me there.

Munsan Soldier, November 2011

I recently met an American Soldier,

weeping the wrath of his enemy nation,

by sprouting loathsome seeds of separation –

“North Korea you mutha Fuckers!

I will shoot them if they come near!”

First, this hatred spawned

by dictators and men in power,

then

nurtured by men at the flanks fighting for “their” countries.

Does he not know the truth

that

they are him, and he is they

And the them he hates is he himself?

North Korean soldiers might retaliate

in equaled anger and blind pride,

blackening their empty mouths with tainted speech

“Damn you Yankee Imperialist Bastards!”

How do they find the energy in their malnourished bodies,

to be vessels of so much hate,

Do they not know the truth

that

they are you, and you are they,

And the you they hate are them themselves?

Island style

My last two weekends in Korea have seen me at possibly one of my favourite spots of all time – the beach. Although I am not much of a swimmer, nor have I found the courage (or will) to surf, the beach itself welcomes me as an old friend each time I visit. I find the rhythmic flow of the waves cleansing, each one draws a part of me out, a part that is not needed, perhaps something negative or something I need to let go of, and simply takes it with her, dispersing it into her giant body. Somehow the ocean is that powerful – my troubles are but a single drop. Needless to say, I am left feeling revitalised and humbled.

Unfortunately travelling to beaches in Korea requires some planning and distance. My fortunate life has always been spent living by the Sea. I grew up in Durban, with an expansive coastline, I then lived in Knysna surrounded by lagoons and lakes; and a mere twenty minute drive to the beach. Finally, I spent the last 6 years in Cape Town, again enclosed by one of the most beautiful coast lines I can imagine. So in this case, travelling for 4 hours seemed almost ridiculous, but completely necessary.

My first weekend trip was to Muui-do. An island a 10 minute bus drive from Inchoen International Airport and a further 10 minute ferry ride from the pier. The event was Korea’s version of Burning Man – a gathering of like minded creatives who spend the festival in the spirit of giving – no money is exchanged but instead talents or services are traded.  We only had one night to celebrate this mini Burning Man, with the main festival happening in the desert in the US over a period of a week (I believe). Strangely, I found myself seeking solitude on this particular weekend, and instead of involving myself in the boisterous activities on the main beach, I enjoyed listening to a friend play guitar, sat transfixed with the moon and sea in front of me, gazing over in reverie. And later engaging in an inspiring conversation with a close friend.  The highlight of the weekend simply being at the beach.

My next island trip was for Chusoek the following weekend. Being Korea’s Thanksgiving vacation, I had a welcomed 4 days off. I ventured off with 2 friends to Jawol-do, another island off of Inchoen, although this island was an hour ferry ride. Jawol-do is an exquisite location –  the locals were incredibly hospitable sharing kimchi and salad with us on the nights we used their grill to braai; the beaches were quiet save a few visitors – some curious who came to join us on an occasion or two, others who kept to themselves. The island has abundance of hills to explore – lush green forests overgrown from the summer rains, alive with spiders and insects and life.

We spent many hours on the beach, playing music, building sand castles and later, exploring the quiet hills around us offering a quiet serenity that was much needed, however, the highlight of this weekend – finding a pagoda at the top of one of the island’s peaks, and sitting for for 2 hours in the quiet, absorbing the scenery, letting time slip gently by. And of course spending days with friends, connecting, sharing, being silly, getting serious – something so necessary and needed, especially in Korea.

Gyeongbokgung

Dear Korea. Please don’t change a thing about this phenomenal place.

Gyeongbokgung is officially my favourite spot in all of Korea. A description of a place where I wept on sight would seem inadequate – absolute whole-hearted recognition of a palace room atop an island with vibrant green lily pads littering the water’s surface. Perhaps it was the striking beauty that transcended the realms of my mind – simultaneously awed with a feeling of I have been here before…

To put this into perspective, last Saturday, I visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. Situated near Gwanghwamun, which boasts the amazing statue of King Sejong (who created Hangul, Korea’s alphabet) and The Story of King Sejong Exhibition Hall.

This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Seoul, as it is in the locale of one of the biggest temples in the city area, Jogysea Temple, where the Lotus Lantern Festival was held, intersects with Insadong, the centre of tourist shopping, as well as other Palaces.

Gyeongbokgung Palace itself rests at the foot of Bugaksan Mountain and hosts a central hall, numerous quarters, as well as many rooms and gardens interweaving throughout the Palace grounds.

Within the Palace a Pavilion has been built on an island in the middle of a lotus pond. I read that its construction was based on cosmic principles espoused by the Book of Changes, The I Ching, which has deep roots within the practise of Taoism. The very sight that held such amazement to me.

It literally left me breathless, my heart thundered in my chest and with a feeling of utter “coming home” enveloped me. Tears welled which I forced down in embarrassment. God only knows why I have this feeling. I have yet to explore the reason behind it – nothing I could explain in words. I had the similar feeling visiting the traditional Korean homes, Hanoks, but this was far beyond anything I had experienced before. I hope to visit the rest of the Palaces in the next few weeks – should I uncover any revelations, I will be sure to post.