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.

Turning 30

Turning 30 has far exceeded my expectations. As a teenager, 30 seemed to reek of stability, maturity and even boredom. Even at that age being settled and having a husband and children at age 30 was daunting – an idea that never sat comfortably in my being. I had the romantic notion that I wanted to live an unconventional life. I wanted to live in interesting times, not totally understanding the repercussions of having such wishes, which usually resulted in me running head first into situations without planning or much rational thought. Which ultimately led to a lot of lessons learnt the hard way. But that also meant following my heart, and my desires. And living by my heart is the only way I can live.

And just days earlier, no, probably weeks, the thought of turning 30 leered at me from its shadows, lurking quietly, but ensuring its presence was felt by the almost unnoticeable thoughts sneaking into my mind. Being 30 was becoming a threshold, an idea I had not planted but somehow the conditioning of where I ‘should’ be had taken hold. And I realised, I had been gently nurturing these thoughts for some time. Yes, even years. Regrettably, the snake that is self-pity had too crept in, allied with ‘should’, conspiring to lead me directly into unhappiness.

I felt full of panic and sick anticipation. This age was descending upon me and forcing me to view my life in a very serious way. Had I reached the goals I had wanted? Was life moving in the direction I had chosen? Why was I not at home with my friends and family, sharing this mile stone? Why was I not building a solid career or establishing a long-lasting relationship with someone of the opposite sex? Instead I am in South Korea, teaching English with no definite plan in sight.

Until finally, the week of my birthday arrived.

Two things happened.

First, I accidentally went to a photography exhibition. It was the 54th Annual World Press Photography Exhibition. The photographs were an eclectic mix of natural disaster survivors and victims, extreme cases of violence exchanged or initiated by men, worlds unexposed to advances of man in the most rudimental forms ranging from public transportation to basic medical necessities. This is a reality. This was someone’s reality. The photographs themselves were intensely personal – visions that entered my body, alarming my senses and marking my psyche. Photographs silently capturing such suffering and debasement whilst simultaneously deeply grounding my reality of what the world can be. Harsh and horrific, terrible and unforgiving.

I walked away knowing I am one of the luckiest woman alive.

Then, the first of September rolled in. This glorious day was finally here for me to get over. I didn’t want to deal with were I was or wasn’t. But the truth is, I actually learnt something.

Nothing changed. I was just a day older.

And something internal clicked.

The realisation allowed me to drop most of the preconceived ideas about what turning 30 meant. I could drop all expectations of where I should be or who I should be with. I was nothing but a day older!  And instead, I chose to accept and embrace everything around me, especially the parts I am not necessarily fond of. And once I started looking at what I actually do have, instead of what I should have, I realised just how amazing my life is. Coupled with the exhibition and spending those few weeks taking stock of myself and my life, I decided the only option I had to happiness, was to transform my world into one of gratitude and agency – coming back to the place of being an active creator in my life and accepting it fully. Accepting the past and the decisions I have made that have led me to where I am. Accepting that life does not always agree to our plans. And finally, I am exactly where I should be.

If getting older brings more acceptance to my usually conflicted self, I am all for it.

Hearts in Hongdae

Hongdae, you are the perfect urban life…

Art in the street that I do so crave,

of tags and skulls and social defects,

with murals of talent spread thinly on walls.

Wafting stenches from your belly bellow,

conflict with enticing side walk roasts of flesh.

Passing fashion sells a different society,

new of age,

confusing;

mixing morals for a counter culture.

Hearts in your eyes for the music you so love,

of musicians masking noise for joy,

corrupting the pollution of cell phone sales.

Lights that deceive a cotton comfort of warmth,

that burn and welcome me

Hongdae, I do so hate to love you.

 

The Bright

Bright i am when i wake, as slumber falls from my fingers. 

My hands that wove me to sleep the night before, 

Are christened new and cool again.

My eyes burn to perceive morning and measure her not once. 

Her silent light sobers me, 

Carrying me gentley into the blanket of my consciousness

Gwanju Toechon Tomato Festival

Liberating madness

About forty foreigners gathered for a day trip to Gwanju to witness Korea’s version of a Tomato festival. Why I say Korea’s version is that compared to Spain’s ‘World’s biggest food fight’ with over 100 metric tons of over ripe tomatoes strewn into the streets, coupled with fireworks, parades, dancing and music, and from anything between 20,000 to 40,000 visitors, Korea’s Toechon Tomato Festival is child friendly, relatively contained with a mere ton of tomatoes and hosts a meagre 10,000 people for the weekend.

The trip was organised by Warren Il Seung Kim, the founder of a group on facebook – the Seoul Hiking Group. I highly recommend joining if you are in the area and enjoy day or weekend trips of a relaxed nature, with hiking, exploring, sight seeing and usually a great crew.

We took about 4 to 5 hours to get there, with what was supposed to be a 2 and a half hour journey. Thanks to Seoul’s massive grid of traffic. I think we were all relieved when we disembarked the bus and whilst I can’t speak for the rest, I was nervous to see what the festival held. And to start off with, I was very really disappointed.

Stands lined either side of the road. Each stall sold either a Korean food variety (mostly variations of rice cakes), stuffed toys, or discounted tomato packs. In the middle of the main road there was a large plastic ground sheet with inflatable sides and tomatoes lining the bottom where a soccer match had been held.

The highlight of the day however was the actual hunt for the gold rings hidden in 5 lucky tomatoes. Here, most of the visitors to the venue crowded around a second ‘arena’ – a plastic ground sheet. We all crowded around and watched, amused, as trucks with thousands of tomatoes reversed into the square offloading their loot by tipping the load. Thousands of tomatoes cascaded out of the side and onto the floor, preparing the field for the tomato battle.

What surprised me was the intensity and seriousness of the crowd, knowing that there were 5 annointed tomatoes holding a gold ring worth about 200,000 won or 200 dollars. Further, that children were standing ready to jump into what would become tomato madness, all waiting, all poised… holding onto their parents, knowing that the chaos might render them lost in red caked strangeness.

And then, in a frantic rush, hoards of people rush into the tomatoes, all in search of the gold rings, some on the ground, fingering the ripe red fruit, some mashing the balls underfoot, making for a tricky entrance, navigating around people crouching to people standing, people behind and in front. Soon enough, the tomatoes are all crushed and squashed and have turned into soup with the assistance of nearby sprinklers. At this point, war has been waged and tomato bombs are being thrown. The surprise of having tomato mashed into your hair, face, chest and back is over, and free tomato liberating madness ensues.

I think some of the children took delight in being able to throw this red purée at the English Teachers. It seemed to be time to take revenge without consequences. What happens in the tomato pit, stays in the tomato pit.

Eventually, the great folly ends as people tire of the rampage, or perhaps generally feel the need to wash the acidic mess from their eyes, noses and ears.  It was time to get lunch at this point which was not very appetising to my vegetarian stomach with a selection of  roasted chicken, strange fish dishes or spicy noodles.

Whilst the tomato fight was the highlight of my trip, many took pleasure in the cooking competition held in the events hall, a fish catching competition held in a portable pool just left of the main arena and of course, merely kicking back at a table, snacks in hand, quietly watching the day unfold.

Truly the most abandoned fun I have had in Korea to date!

where i am now

i, ego i, am a complete contradiction of myself. i long for madness, depravity, long nights of confusion, rusted raw awakenings in unknown places with strange people. i hope to be among talented people in a crowded room and find myself. i wish for this eager need for sanctuary and wholeness to subside.

i reached a quiet death on a misty evening in the throes of a bad trip. i have delved deeply into my madness. i have explored utter darkness of my mind in sick depression, staring blankly at the walls at 4am 4pm watching them move and slide as my eyes distort, ill and alone with nothing but my thoughts to occupy the space, too ill to move, to sick in the mind not to.

i have touched God in myself, out of myself, beyond myself and in you, so many a time, and finally found IT resting in me, and as me, and it is quiet and empty. and all that is left is this all encompassing IS-NESS.

Media Deprivation

I have been working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, as I stated at the start of this blog. This weeks challenge is to avoid all forms of media – emailing, Twitter, Magazines, Books, TV, this blog! I was honestly excited at first, an actual excuse to not have to email and get in touch or to be informed. A mini hiatus with zero expectations from friends and family and colleagues. I do love to email and connect with my family and friends, but so often I wish I could just avoid it all – expectations weigh me down.

          

Of course this challenge got me thinking about how much time I actually do spend on my computer, chatting, surfing the web and often times how unproductive if not utterly wasteful the time spent is. I have now termed it ‘mental masturbation’. It is like eating an entire bag of crisps without even realizing it. To just sit in a space of idly chatting and browsing and to suddenly look up and realise you have just spent several hours on your computer without accomplishing, or even doing, a thing. I do this. Sure it is great to chat and shoot the shit with friends back in South Africa, to just switch off to an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but for this mission of creative emergence I am trying to be on, it is a waste of time.

.

For me, I am even going as far to compare it to how much time, thinking and working the thoughts in my mind. It is just a pattern of behaviour for my thoughts, they have grown accustomed to me switching off and indulging their games and folly, all of which is completely inconsequential to the actual world. They are just my thoughts. This pattern enables me to tune out of the moment, and delve into my thoughts, avoiding this present state, venturing into the past, or the future, trying to solve some problem. All tricks of the monkey mind and the ego.

This also got me thinking about how much we are bombarded with Media on a day to day basis. I am constantly being subjected to some sort of advertising, some sort of new consumerist trend that I should sit up and take note of. This onslaught is not even out of my own doing, I just have to look around the streets, billboards, signs, posters, Yahoo home page. All of this bullshit is filtering into my consciousness, absorbed via osmosis without my permission. All of which are designed to alter my thinking, I am sure to instill a feeling of lack, that I should go out and purchase more, do more, be more.

I sadly realised after 4 days into this challenge, the amount of times I check my email, how addicted and compelled I am to do this. I am ashamed to admit it, but it is true. Compelled to see who is writing to me, who is talking to me, who is inviting me somewhere, when honestly, deep down, I don’t actually care (to check it that often), and where this pattern emerged from I don’t know, but I noticed it, it is there.

So, perhaps the challenge by Julia Cameron might inspire you, to see if you could give this up for a week. To totally open the space for something new to step in. To be inspired by the life inside you instead of the world out there. To be doing something interesting, instead of reading about someone else doing it. And so, the decision to be more conscious in my life and to continue to make positive changes continues, I have decided to spend less time idly online, and more time doing things that inspire me.

63 City Building

What comes to mind when I think of the 63 sky building in Yeoido-dong is simply “you never know who is watching…” The Sky Lounge features a 360 degree view of Seoul. Much of what you can see on an overcast, hazy day in Seoul is just that – clouds and haze, and well, buildings, although I do not contest that this would be spectacular on a clear day. I took  a few pictures of the sprawling city and the Han river stretching out below although much of the view was hidden in blue and grey. I found it unnerving that for a simple 500 won I could use the telescopes provided and not only gaze into said smog, but also peer into peoples apartments, or at least into in the apartment blocks and the streets. My natural curiosity nearly relished this opportunity, but I somehow managed to avoid this, and walk away, reminding myself to do unto others as you would have done to you.

The 63 Building used to be one of the tallest building in Seoul and boasts an aquarium, a wax museum, an IMAX theater, the Sky Art Gallery as well as numerous offices, restaurants and a few clothing stores. honestly this exploring session was incredibly dull. My favourite stop of interest was the Art Gallery. As much as I love simply wandering and looking at art, the most appealing thing to me was the Wish Wall. It consisted of numerous Hearts, cut out of cardboard, all pasted along a wall, all containing a wish from someone, inspiring the sentimental side of me. I also found a work of art consisting of tiles, each tile representing someone’s interpretation of love be it by a simple heart, or numerous hearts or simply the word love.

I visited the wax museum next, and this was truly a let down. The figures themselves were badly made up and unrealistic. I also thought the museum was small and lacking in content, as it took me only 5 minutes to walk through the entire area.

I decided not to venture into the IMAX theater or the aquarium and have to say, the highlight of this day out was actually the bicycle ride I took around the Han River. I only had an hour to spare, and just cruised around the river on a rickety bicycle. It cost only 3000 won and was worth it. The Han has a personality, and holds incredible history beneath its wearing bridges. I passed other  leisure cyclists, hardcore cyclists, people walking, people having picnics, people fishing (out the Han River! – that fish is NOT safe!), people sailing, people sitting. All in all just people sharing this river space, sharing their stories and lives momentarily with this body of water – holding conversations, seeing life, keeping secrets.

I ended this day off with a walk around a random subway stop on the way home. I managed to capture some good pictures, rounding off a very okay day. All in all, venture to the 63 building on a clear and beautiful day, avoid the wax museum, and you should be pleased.

Voids

Sometimes I think I forget how to be human,

As if the veil falls from my eyes and I see things in a different way,

Where this dance of interaction makes no sense at all

Where I am standing so far outside myself, I have forgotten how to be,

Perhaps forgotten the appropriate response, any response.

Sometimes I wonder if all my responses are simply conditioned reactions,

And where the real ‘me’ lies, if it exists at all.

Sometimes I step so far within, I literally have to focus on each word and their desired linguistic value in my brain,

Just so I can fathom a hint of what you are saying.

Sometimes I lie on my floor for hours and wonder if time remembered to move forward.

Sometimes I wonder if my existence actually makes a difference to anything at all,

And I don’t mean that in that need for attention kind of way,

But more like what does this lifetime mean in an expanse of a trillion life times.

I would like to just for a while, borrow your consciousness and your mind,

Just so I could experience a different pattern of thoughts and views and for a while,

To know what it feels like to feel other than this.

Why we are really here…

So this mad Life that leaves me inspired on a good day and depraved the next, I realise your challenge to me. I can see your naked awareness and your truth and the gifts you offer me. This is what I will give back to you in return.

I promise not to be complacent. I promise not to be tepid. I promise not to be mediocre. Instead dear Life, I offer you my heart and soul, the very essence of which I am and the essence of which you are. There is no joke about it; we cannot wait for anything, we cannot wait for life to start. We have to hunger for it, and then search it out with all of ourselves. We have to long for it, and endure it and work for it, and treat it tenderly when we have found it. We have to make this happen. We cannot afford to idly sit by and if we have to wait, make our waiting active, that is ready for the opportunity as it arises, at any moment, poised, concentrated and awake.

If it is romantic love we want, we have to be ready – ready to be intimate, ready to be open and receptive, to love and to give love to share the depths of ourselves with another, else we are simply hiding ourselves, paying more into deceiving ourselves into the fake cocoon that we are actually being open when are are not. We have to know ourselves inside and out, or else how can we truly offer ourselves to another? We cannot play with the heart of another.

This art that we want, this creative soul that drives us, we have to open ourselves so radically to this that there is no going back. We have to commit to being torn apart in order to be whole. We have to cultivate this art, dedicate time, passion and our sanity to it in order to fully become it, in order to fully know it, in order to fully integrate it and be a master – in order to fully let it go and become one again without it.

We are dying everyday, and we live in so much darkness of our own life and love because we do not truly know who or what we are. I challenge you as I challenge myself, to go out, to find it, to be raw, to be open, to embrace loss, madness, fear and death, only so that we can return to sanity again, truly and deeply. This life means so much, we are constantly affecting others and consciousness itself, we cannot feel that we do not matter. We have to make this count, we have to live by example, we have to live by our hearts and we have to live by our truth. And to everyday, live like this, and everyday, to let it all go again because essentially, it is all bullshit and in the end, we have to let it go anyway. And we have to be perfectly unattached, so that we can be whole again.

With this, I want to know what moves you. I want to know what makes you feel, I want to know what brings you joy and I want to know what brings you pain. And all of it, to sum it up again, in this word – Life.

This is what I have to give back to you, dear Life.

Community

Recently I came across particularly moving blog via Facebook, Our Own Path written by Kyle and Bessie Crum  (which I highly recommend as an inspiring read). The reason I found this post so poignant was the honesty with which the author wrote. Instead of writing about some adventure or sunset (which of course is interesting and important to share!) she wrote about the people in Myanmar who are touching her life. The kind-hearted people who live their lives with such admirable generosity that I was literally moved beyond myself. From a western society wrought with the sense of individuality and a compulsion to succeed materialistically, this amazing sense of community and giving beyond one’s self is remarkably touching and somewhat foreign.

I remember my first encounters of  such giving here in South Korea, and it was the smallest yet most sincere gesture of simply putting someone else first and thinking of their happiness before your own. If you pay attention, these gestures are noticeable in so many ways. Quietly observing people here, I see it. I have to say, I do sometimes question it – the motivation behind it – is it purely a sense of duty and conditioning, or is this something heartfelt and spontaneous?

I have not had the chance to travel to Myanmar where the blog co-author, Bessie, is writing of, but I do understand what she is talking about.

I noticed  a similar sharing in Boracay, the Philippines, a place where tourists are a source of income and a foreigner is a signal for a sale, where the people seemed so alive, so open, so happy yet were clearly struggling financially. Away from the busy beaches where I took my walks, the unity and sharing amongst the people is tangible and I often received invitations into people’s homes; perhaps they were curious of my strangeness, my blonde hair and pale skin, but I would like to think they simply wanted to share, to connect and to be human.

In South Africa, many locals have the same attitude – Ubuntu – a person is a person through people.  And one can clearly witness the shared lives in certain communities, that one household is stronger because of another, and that the people around you are more important than your possessions and your own wealth, and through sharing and giving, you make the other, and yourself stronger. So often you do not see this or feel this in the West. We live such estranged lives from our neighbours, we put up high walls to protect ourselves from the outside, granted we feel safer but essentially we are closing ourselves off. We wear head phones on trains, buses and planes to avoid conversations with each other, we bury ourselves in books or newspapers so to avoid the stranger next to us. We strive to set ourselves apart and become more successful, more of an individual  and we don’t allow ourselves to be open, and to share with our fellow people and we forget our basic fundamental humaness.

This blog of Bessie and Kyle’s has reminded me of an old conflict I have yet to resolve, is anything in this life worth having if you have no one to share it with? I think of home and the people I love the most and the fact I miss sharing and connecting with them. I miss my family and my brothers and sisters I have not had a real relationship with for years. I am grateful for the fact I can be a part of this community in Korea; as well as the strong bonds that develop with fellow English teachers. The gift is that I get to be a part of their lives for this time and as much as I welcome this, I still feel my own inability to be as open as the people Bessie describes, and furthermore to the strangers around me. I still fear ‘lack’ which is the antithesis of what I believe myself to be;  I still do not trust the abundant source of life that we are as much as I would like to. I still fear that I will not have enough, yet of people who have so little, how do they still manage to give so much?

Bukhansan Mountain.


This day’s adventure began at 7 am. I had committed myself to a hike with two of the fittest people in Geumchon, Jameson and Laurel, a couple from the United States. Let me just say, a fabulous, adventurous couple whose openess to people and kindness has been an inspiration. I was really nervous as a novice in the sport of hiking, and previous experience has taught me to take it easy, and not attempt hikes with adepts who tend to move at pace up steep inclines, whilst I pant and perspire at the foot of said incline and Laurel had in fact warned me that this would not be an easy hike. Bukhansan Mountain boasts being one of Korea’s most popular rock climbing and hiking destinations with many entrances and hikes to enjoy depending on your desired hike as well as length. And as so many journey’s begin, we asked a local hiker about which bus to take, not completely trusting our telephonic guide, and ended up on a bus to the wrong entrance of the Mountain, which claims a far easier hike, much to my happiness and Laurel and Jameson’s disappointment. However the mere fact we had arrived at the wrong entrance left me knowing a good adventure was underway – spontaneous and leaving it in the hands of the gods.

After a steep incline, we found a map and discussed our route options. It was a particularly beautiful day – the sun was out and visible, only partially covered by clouds and smog, leaving a pleasant hue above the trees. The temperature seemed perfect, slightly cool with the promise of warming up as the day wore on.

Our journey took us up many steep hills, all well set out for the hikers, hand rails and non slip rubber mats underfoot in more precarious places. The declines were somewhat trickier, and I often had to resort to going on all fours to make it down the rocks with my running shoes. The terrain was littered with purple flowers and white cherry blossoms, all signalling out from the green mass of trees engulfing the countryside. It was a spectacular scene after watching brown sentinels  dispersed across the landscape, witnesses to the cold, barren winter before.

The sound of regulated knocking began to filter into my awareness and I knew at once a Buddhist Temple was nearby. It is a slow, rhythmic knock of wood on wood which aroused our curiosities. We ventured in the direction and came across the source, a Buddhist Temple set amongst the trees, right in the side of the mountain.

As I walked passed the entrance to the Temple, I caught sight of the 3 golden Buddhas set at the alter.

After peering further in, I noticed the seated Buddhist from which the knocking of the wooden instruments had originated. Completely unperturbed by our presence, he continued to chant and knock, silently wrapped in the blanket of his meditation, slowly and deliberately offering his devotion to the Buddha. I felt as if I had come across the most intimate of acts, a man and his God, his life surrendered to this divine being, and I was witnessing this secret ritual. But, the doors stood open, people passed by as if it was the most casual thing. I managed to muster enough courage to actually take a photo, blessing this sacred act, whilst I felt I was mocking it. After taking a few photos of the area, we set off again to yet another climb.

Upon reaching the top, and enjoying the sites from the massive granite peak beneath us and sharing some fruit, Jameson looked forward and upward to the next rise of mountain, and decided he wanted that peak some way ahead of us. This of course made me want to turn around and head back, feeling tired, but as I had committed myself bravely to this, I silenced myself and decided to trust my fellow hikers and continue.

We set forth again, up and over more rocks, passing hikers both children and adults alike. Korea certainly has a healthy minded society as some hikers looked well beyond the age of someone who should be hiking, yet there they were, decked out in their North Face best, matching track pants and jackets, gloves and boots. I may have even called it a fashion parade if I didn’t acknowledge how seriously they take their hiking.

About 2 hours, another Temple and some gimbap later, we came to a fortress wall that stretched out on either side. I stand corrected, but research tells me that the fortress is named Bukhansanseong Fortress was built to stop foreign invasion in the Joseon Era. The particular gate we encountered is called Daeseongmun – 대성문 – Bukhansan Fortress Gate.

What was amazing about this fortress was that it extended for miles upon the hill top of this peak, stretching as far I could see, drifting off into the distance amongst the trees. We walked along one side of the wall, ascending the hill further, watching as the view grew more and more expansive. The tree tops above us at this stage we stunning, arching over us, dispersing before us, the purple flowers distracting my gaze from the peak in the opposite direction and from the view before me.

From the top of the fortress wall I could see the Namsan Tower ahead of me, whilst the Han river snaked its way through the greenery and beyond. I       don’t think I have ever seen such a panoramic view in Korea before, even though there was still some smog, it was considerably clearer than on most days. We continued down the stone stairs weaving its way alongside the fortress wall. Before us stood a magnificent granite rock. It looked perfectly  oval like an egg standing on a ledge, waiting to fall off and crash to the surface below.

We stopped here, proud of our journey so far, proud of our progress, and mostly grateful for the spectacular views and delights nature had bestowed on us this day. I had not yet encountered such a beautiful hike as this in Korea so far. *

*My journey does not end here, but I must put this post to rest.

Lotus Lantern Festival

The Lotus Lantern Festival is held annually in Insadong, Seoul. The purpose of the festival is to not only honour Buddha and his birthday which falls on the 10thof May, but also to symbolize lighting up the parts of the world, and ourselves, that are suffering or in darkness. It is essentially for the enlightenment of us all. Thus, on Sunday, I headed off to join in the festivities of making Lotus Lanterns, not only to partake in a fun day of arts, but also to share in the beautiful notion of enlightenment for all.

The festival area was a closed off street exhibiting stands and stalls to delight all curiosities from making mini lotuses, enjoying temple food to colouring laughing Buddha’s for children. The brilliance of this event was that Buddhists from all over the world came to celebrate and I noted Mongolian, Cambodian, Taiwanese, Tibetan, Himalayan and Nepalese Buddhists with their stands joining in the festival serving to enrich the diversity of this day but also to show their love and devotion for Buddha.

The lotus making itself was at the far end of the street, and had tables and chairs stretched out in order to accommodate the 200 lantern makers. I joined my friends at our designated seats. Before us was set out individual baskets with coloured paper for the petals, glue, as well as the skeleton of the lanterns, constructed out of wire and paper. All we had to do was twist the pieces of paper in colours of our choice, and glue them onto the lantern. Of course this is easier said than done, and after some 2 hours of paper twisting and gluing, we sat satisfied albeit glued and stained with colour with the finished product. Each lantern was different from colourand pattern to frequency of petals.

The end of the Lantern making was celebrated with a prize giving and photo taking session. Some of my friends won prizes for our lanterns, possibly as we had made an effort to befriend our lantern making guide. The prizes included incense, candles, books and finally traditional Korean clothes – Hanbok.

After the lantern making, we set off, proud with our patience and accomplishment of our arts to explore the rest of the festival. The main Temple in Insadong, Jogyesa was a hub of activity. A silver pagoda stood at the foot of the Temple with a maze of coloured lanterns fluttering in the background.

 Beyond the lanterns stood the grand Temple itself, with its high arching eaves so exquisitely crafted and coloured, it is almost too much for the senses to attune. People were lining up to enter the Temple where chanting and traditional instruments could be heard. It was as if people were magnetically drawn in, like bees to honey. The outside walls were decorated with murals of the Buddha in all shapes and forms, sitting, standing, meditating –  these glorious depictions of this peaceful and enlightened being bringing the Temple walls to life.  I managed to spot Korean woman dressed in Hanbok about to enter the temple, they were ushering children in – truly a sight to behold, I felt as if I had been transported back in time.

We made our way around the back and to the side of the Temple, and to my left, massive doors stood partially ajar. Inside I caught a glimpse of the massive golden Buddha towering over the seated devotees, eyes closed yet still with such a powerful gaze and presence I felt as if he had penetrated directly into my soul.

Unable to shake off the immensity of the effect of this, I decided that I had had a suitable amount of crowds and festivities, and headed happily back to the nearest subway line, content and contemplating the wondrous day behind me. That vision of Buddha between the open doors will never leave me.

Perfect anonymity

An aspect I appreciate about Korea is that I feel perfectly anonymous on my days out exploring. I am just a foreign face, with no identity, no past and no social ties, completely independent to act and be as I please. I find after having lived in Cape Town for several years, whether you choose to adhere to certain social norms or constructs or not, you are aware of them. You are aware of what to say and do in certain social situations or particular social circles. This of course can be a good tool for survival in a socially minded city like Cape Town, however, I do find it limiting. The fact often prevents me from acting freely or spontaneously. I limit what I say to certain people, as well as what I do. Honestly, without even thinking about it. However, whilst I am here in Korea, I feel nameless, speechless and free. Having embarked on this creative journey, I travel to Seoul once a week to explore or wander. The feeling of anonymity is certainly helpful in this regard – I can enter the realm of my creativity unperturbed by others around me, undeterred by their presence, and me, unaware of their thoughts and ideas. I simply have no frame of reference. I can wonder, watch, absorb, touch, reflect and simply be.  So, as I sit here, in a random restaurant just off the busy streets of Itaewon, sheltered by a makeshift plastic screen distorting the view in front of me, the sun setting behind the buildings casting shadows that further warp the world before me, I feel new, unlimited and free to be whatever I choose to in that moment. It is liberating.

Leeum Samsung Art Gallery, Itaewon

The Leeum Samsung Gallery is situated atop a steep incline just off the main road about 150 metres from Hangangjin Station, which is next to the popular Itaewon Station – the foreign hub of Korea.

I was distracted by the upmarket houses in the area – some exhibiting bare industrial features with stark surfaces and minimalistic touches whilst others revealed a warm modern touch with face brick walls and wooden window frames and roofs. In comparison to the dreary apartment buildings or the traditional hanoks, they offered a variation in style. I was about to continue my search up the hill for the gallery, when to my left, I see the spiders that I had only glimpsed previously on a friends facebook album. Finally, my gaze held this vision, this gigantic spider –  enormous, awkward yet graceful, apocalyptic and stunning all at once.

Her massive metal legs stand, poised over the earth in a perfect position, as if she is ready to move at any moment, yet is cautiously standing her ground. I was utterly tranfixed by her presence, unearthly, primordial, even sinister. She just stands there elegantly, high above us, watching. An aura of some primal intelligence and ruthlessness can be felt as if she knows one movement of her steel legs could pin me to the ground and split me open. She is truly magnificent. Just next to her, is her smaller counterpart, not quite as tall or deadly, but exuding  an equal effect of intimidation. The spiders are just so out of place, here, on top of this hill, amidst these houses, in the ever conservative Korea, massive metal arachnids, ready to strike.

On later reading within the Art Gallery, I learnt that the artist designed the larger of the spiders as a female carrying her eggs beneath her inside a steel cage, and is testimony to her fierce maternal instincts, however, that her spindly legs serve to show how vulnerable she is. I clearly felt the protective instinct about her, feeling small and weak in comparison, however, I did not feel the sense of vulnerability that the artist hoped to convey.

Inside the Gallery itself, I found contemporary and modern art work that I did not feel an affinity for, its purpose lost on me. I found 2 pieces interesting, however, there is an eclectic array of artwork from photography to detailed sketches to large instillations of radios mounted on televisions sets with antenna peering from the sides that might delight you.

Part of the exhibition I did find moving and beautiful was the Buddhist art located in Museum 1 on the ground floor. A phenomenal ‘mini’ pagoda welcomes you as you enter, utterly mesmerizing with its many floors, personalities and tales all rising and telling a different story with its detailed engravings of pictures, people, deities that I do not understand, but leave a feeling of appreciation. Following the pagoda are various statues of sitting Buddha’s, the standing Buddha triad, Boddhisatva and my favourite, the pensive Maitreya.

I am amazed at the pristine condition of these very old artifacts, and utterly grateful they exist in Korea, having come from China and ultimately changing philosophy and religion in Korea. The artwork conjures the beautiful complexities and intricacies of Buddhism, a tradition of transcendence and divinity, compassion and love, embodied in this art and preserved for centuries and ready for our eyes to behold. I feel truly in awe as I leave this gallery and take to the streets of Itaewon to explore and wander, feeling inwardly quieter and more peaceful from this serene afternoon of beauty. I sincerely recommend a visit to this gallery and truly feel it has something to inspire you.

Adventures in Samcheong park

On Sunday, I decided to head to Samcheong Park, beckoned by the flowering of the cherry blossoms, and in keeping true to my nature, away from the bustling and crowded streets of Yeoinaru, Seoul. Samcheong Park is about a 30 minutes amble  up the road from Anguk station, exit 2. This was a particularly intriguing way to spend a Sunday as Anguk is simple and charming with  a sense of familiarity that emits from the streets that are new to my eyes. I felt welcomed by the warm coffee shops, boasting organic coffee and fresh teas, art galleries, furniture shops and expensive clothing stores all intermingled with bakeries and specialised food stores lending to a unique aura of Italy meets Korea.  A sense of sophistication can be felt, uncharacteristically clean and somewhat classy with their modern buildings with marble finishings and stylish lighting. However as we ventured further up this street, we came across traditional Korean style homes, Hanok, made from timber, soil and rock with their exquisitely tiled roofs (Giwa) and wooden beams. I can’t say why I love these building so much, only

that they seem to speak to a part of me that I don’t even know, as if I once lived in a Hanok – perhaps grew up in one, grew old in one – there is just a connection felt, and it is strong.  Perhaps it is the sense of living history that one cannot help but feel emanating from the very old and sturdy walls.

The streets veered off from the main road, winding their way into a confused maze of houses and alleys and stairwells, all exhibiting the same richness of time and perfection in constructing these homes.

What I do find particularly beautiful about these buildings are their  decorative eaves as well as the decorative doors. Such detail has been put into the making of these often overlooked aspects of our homes, however, there is something so intriguing about doors in Korea, which will be another entry on my blog, but for now, their decorative capacity and attention to detail is astounding and somewhat mystifying.

Further along our way, we pass several places of interest, or at least wonder, such as the Seoul Museum of Chicken Art. I did not wait around to find out why such a place exists, but chose rather to accept it was just another idiosyncrasy of Korea. The road meandered its way up the hill, offering sweet passages up small stairwells, more hanoks to delight the eye, and finally, at the crescent of the hill, our eyes fell upon some of what the cherry blossoms had to offer. In the distance, a feast for our eyes, was a hill, scattered with trees, and smatterings of cherry blossoms, visible by their contrasting colours to the early stages of spring and their still hibernating neighbours. Fresh white and pink blossoms colouring the hill with an unimaginable softness and newness that only the dawn of spring can show.

The park itself offers pathways and hikes demarcated by wooden walkways and bridges. Benches are provided for rest or simply to sit upon as you absorb your surroundings. My friend and I ate our Kimbap happily, talking away about the welcomed coming of spring and the imminent heat that will follow in summer, an occurrence we are both looking forward to. After lunch, we made our way around the park, enjoying the boardwalk and the earthen sound it made beneath our feet, watching butterflies glide by, people walking their dogs and families out on excursions.

Our chosen path winded its way up and around, opening up to what might have been a brook had there been sufficient rain to water its thirsty banks.

Finally, after much exploring and feeling our why through what nature and this beautiful park had to present, we returned to the main area of the park, with concrete paths teaming with visitors and families alike. Here the cherry blossoms stand like centuries, overlooking and overhanging the path, enveloping it with its beauty, creating an archway through which to exit. Perhaps the allure of these flowers, is the fact that they are so short lived, and must be savoured as much as possible.

On heading back down the street, we stopped to wish the last few alleyways a warm farewell, stopping to peer at the last few stores that caught our eye on the way up, and finally, stopping to have tea in one of the many quaint tea rooms along the road. An exquisite journey, and one I definitely recommend.

Why I am here

I created this blog for 3 reasons. Firstly, to document my adventures and misadventures in Seoul by means of a visual/script based diary. Secondly, to document my thoughts and feelings I am too often afraid to voice or admit. This is a process by which I become ‘naked’, less ego-filled and hope to learn to take myself less seriously.

For starters, I am a complete contradiction of myself. I am either at war within or am in a space of complete acceptance and flow with the world. In these moments I embrace it all freely; in the former, I simply argue with myself, wanting to be something other than I really am which just creates contention, and thus, at odds by the conflict within which just creates more strife. I get mad at myself for feeling useless emotions like jealousy or petty anger. I feel confused about this world we live in – raw, devastating, horrifying as well as beautiful, hopeful and offering ineffable joy. I don’t know how to make peace with it all sometimes. I am currently conflicted about being in Korea. On one hand, the fun of exploring and wandering, the joy of being so utterly anonymous and lawless, getting away with so much and claiming ignorance as a foreigner. On the other, I am missing home and the people I love and love to share my life with, which to me, is one of the most important things in the world. And even though I have so much here I am grateful for, this emotion is strong, and I can’t put it down.

My third and final reason, as I have embarked on a mission to find creative freedom which began some time ago, with the help of Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artists Way’ and having the space to recommence, as well as a promise to be more true to myself and who this ego “I” is, well, this blog is here to document that. So this is the journey.