Doughnuts, Sweaters, and Being Together

So the super important news of the week is that the Paris Baguette across from work, which has been closed all month, is finally open again!! It’s been magically transformed into a Paris Baguette Café which means I’m not sure what. But it looks very fancy and shiny and new (but also mostly the same). Yesterday was the grand reopening and everything in the store was 20% off, obviously I bought everything in the store. It really was almost exactly the same but still. One new product I saw was blueberry doughnuts so I got one and it was delicious (though it kind of made me miss Tesco).

It was truly a hardship while it was closed. There’s another one ten or fifteen minutes down the street near my grocery store, but I only ever go there on Saturday, it’s such a burden.

Okay, that is all the first-world complaining I have for this week, promise.

I would like to share a really precious picture of Camaro who just wonders why life gotta do her like that.

Camaro2017-10-23

Work continues to be pretty generally fine. I covered one of the three hour sessions of the extra course I taught last term and, while the class itself was fine, it did renew my gratitude for being free from teaching that this term. We’re also having a little Halloween poster contest for the whole hagwon, a fun diversion for them instead of stressing over the test. Some of them are taking it very seriously which is always nice.

My students are pretty good, several of them are definite favorites. Teaching higher levels is a major plus for me and hopefully I’ll finish strong next term with similar classes (and I’d love to have a bunch of my students again). Next week is the level-up test which means there’s only one more month left in this term.

Sweater weather is finally here, too. A great relief after long-enduring days of too much heat. It hasn’t been hot hot for a while, and we long ago left the humidity behind, but it was getting pretty late for an actual start to fall. So I’m very much enjoying wearing all my sweaters again, giving them some fresh air after too long stowed away in the closet.

Not much else has been going on this week. Doing some reading. Doing a lot of waiting because I’m on hold at the library for like twenty thousand books and it’s taking forever. Also, I have not suddenly become fluent in Korean, I’m referring to the Pierce County Library which has on online lending system for Ebooks that I’ve been using.

Also, how crazy is it that Martin Luther nailed up his theses 500 years ago? Five hundred years of protest. Maybe next week I’ll have some thoughts about it, I didn’t realize that it was actually on 31 October, just sort of interesting because, like, Halloween and stuff. You know. Not feeling eloquent today, and feeling generally lazy, so that’s all I’ve got on that but there is plenty to be said, maybe next week.

I don’t have much to say this week in terms of discussion topics, but I did have a little moment of almost déjà vu. Did you ever see those Android commercials from several years ago? With the animals playing together? I do happen to use an Android phone but regardless of that I really love the slogan for that ad campaign: Be together, not the same.

That’s my closing thought for today.

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Breathing Old Breaths

I had Wednesday off this week which was a huge blessing. I felt like it was Saturday all day and every time I remembered it crushed me all over again. But it was 100% worth it. Work this term has actually been good, I think I even feel confident enough to say it’s my best term so far. But I’m sure you can agree, sometimes you just gotta be free. In lieu of my typical attitude of why-do-when-you-can-just-not, I decided to actually utilize my free day to Korea a little bit.

Korea-ing this week turned out to mean a trip to Olympic Park way out on the other side of the city. If you weren’t aware, Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics and there’s a big park that’s like a park but also home to several of the smaller venues like tennis, handball, and gymnastics. It was, in contrast to the weather generally, a grey and chilly day but not cold enough for me to want a coat with all the walking I was doing. There was some kind of school thing going on so there were hundreds of small children running around a large section of the park (and no, hundreds is not an exaggeration, it’s a big park and there were many different schools in attendance). Once I got away from them, though, I had a really pleasant time.

The park is built on the site of an old castle sort of thing from the kingdom of Baekje, one of the main kingdoms in Korea around the fifth century. I walked around the remains of earthen ramparts, next to the moat, and around the Olympic Plaza. Here are a few snapshots to give you the gist.

My week was pretty boring otherwise, so the remainder of this post I’ve dredged up from the depths of my draft bin. Not relevant to my week but interesting enough, I think. I hope you’ll pardon the sheer inanity of it; I may not stand by the writing but I’ll stand by the sentiment. People who sometimes feel nostalgic: what is something that you find yourself missing and with whom do you wish you could reminisce about it?

There is a painting by American artist Edward Hopper called Nighthawks. Painted in 1942, I just wanted to share it with you to strike the appropriate mood. I love the casual mystery of the scene and its occupants and I hope you find yourself as intrigued (and oddly soothed) as I am.

nighthawks_by_edward_hopper_1942

Without getting into the mind-boggling complexities of great scientific unknowns, I thought I’d offer up a few casual layman’s contemplations of the non-linear nature of time.

As a simple human, I can only experience time as a human may, and perhaps this is most comprehensively contained in the concept of memory, though not entirely so. Indeed, it may be that it is not the nature of time at all that I observe, the act of observing changing the reality. But that, too, is much farther into science and philosophy than I care to venture. Like, wow, sorry.

It seems to me that time can function both cyclically and randomly. An imperfect image, as all metaphors must of necessity be, is of the air. The uncountable millions of particles and molecules in our atmosphere continually course in and out of our lungs. Perchance, we will breathe the same individual atom any number of times, in quick succession or with decades between meetings. There is no way to keep track of what air we have breathed or to predict if ever we will encounter those breaths again. No breath is marked as different from the rest, save for the ease or difficulty of its breathing and the aroma we may chance to scent. Yet even aromas are false reminders, no matter their very particular resemblance, likely to be made of entirely new air simply carrying a similar perfume.

As often happens, I find myself rambling on and on and I hardly know what I am saying at this point. I apologize, it usually drives me wild when I go back and read posts like this. But unfortunate as it may be, I intend for this blog to capture all of me, including my incoherent pseudo-philosophical introspections. I take comfort knowing that I do not inflict it on you; you, reader, inflict it on yourself.

In a book, I encountered a sentiment that captures almost exactly what I want to say (simply saying it at the beginning would negate the need for the post). I will leave you with words from Robin Hobb:

It was possible to be homesick for a time, and to be lonely for the only other person who could recall it.

I have so few years to be nostalgic for but they weigh deeply in me, on occasion, nonetheless.

Sea

I haven’t been up to much this week so I’ll just give you a bit of a rundown of the last little bit of my Chuseok break, following up from last week.

I did make it out to Incheon on Friday and I had a really nice time. It was sort of a chilly, blustery sort of day which caught me unexpectedly as the previous day had been hot and sunny. It was about an hour and a half on the subway to get there, but a significant portion of the trip was aboveground and afforded me some pleasant scenery once we got out of the thick of Seoul. Of course, it’s pretty continuous city between Seoul and Incheon but there are many green places in between where the cities mostly leave off for a bit.

My goal for the day was vague, I wanted to see Central Park and the sea. Other than that, I just figured I’d wander around a bit and find somewhere to read for a while. Emerging from the Central Park subway exit, I found myself in a pleasant little space in the midst of more modern, prettier highrises than the ones I’m accustomed to in Seodaemun.

The park itself was a pleasant little waterway with green spaces on either side. There was even a small cruise boat of sorts that could carry you the length of the passage, though the canal section is only about one kilometer long. There were statues and pathways with flowers and plentiful benches. Most of the glory of the summer, I’m sure, was lost by the time I made it out, but it was still reasonably decked out. I sat down across from a group of (bronze?) urinating boys, as one does, and took out my Dostoyevsky to catch up since I’ve been slacking. I had some convenience store kimbap and tea. So I passed a while and it was nice.

After a bit, I got up and decided to walk down the road to the water–the actual ocean water, not the canal. It turned out to be much farther away than I thought but it wasn’t super long. The first ten minutes or so of the street passed through a forest of apartment buildings under construction, this time the plain, unattractive ones I’m used to. It was kind of spooky, actually: the five lane road next to me was almost totally deserted, the street lights were out at several intersections, the windowless holes in the towers peering down like little hollow black eyes. On a grey, slightly blustery day that looked and felt like five or six in the evening starting around 1 o’clock. I loved it.

The second ten minutes went through a section of completed apartments that, while no more attractive, were at least a little more homey-looking. The small, landscaped areas in front were complete and unobscured by construction miscellanea. People were a little more common, though still few and far between. There was a school so it didn’t look quite so post-apocalyptic. The trees along the city street (save for the traffic and the trains) rustled gently and redly in the wind.

The last ten minutes ran between a golf course behind a literal and vegetative fence on my right and the National University of Incheon on the left. I didn’t explore there but it seemed like a pretty campus. There were still very few people and cars about and I rather enjoyed the relative isolation after the unceasing closeness of Seoul.

At last, I reached the water at a little park-ish place. I think it was where large pieces of the Incheon bridge were assembled (since, if you didn’t know, Incheon airport is actually on an island). I was above the water and couldn’t find a place to go down to it. I couldn’t smell seaweed or fish or salt. There were very few seagulls and no barnacles. Nonetheless, simply seeing the water was incredibly refreshing. I am a saltwater man through and through and, as I quoted on here a few months ago, to see the sea once is to learn how to miss it.

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to escape the city a second time though, as always, Seoul managed to be visible. I went up with a friend of mine and her family (they’re Korean) and we drove up to Namhansanseong or Namhan Mountain Fortress. It’s a bit of a castle on a hill and it had some splendid views which my rudimentary camera skills were unable to quite capture. But I had a great time. We went to dinner afterwards and it was delicious. All in all a wonderful close to my first Chuseok.

There’s not really much else to report from here. Classes have resumed as normal. I learned that next term’s intensive classes will start on 26 December and I will probably (but maybe there will be a miracle) have to work on Christmas. Which I knew coming here. But still.

And in case you were wondering, obviously I’m always psyched about Christmas but the period of intensifying expectation of the coming of Christmas season is now in full swing. Started probs a month ago. Like, I’m so ready for Christmas. I need it.

추석 (or: A holiday that I don’t feel and important feelings that I do)

It’s impossible for a city with an eight digit population to empty, but the feeling in Seoul during Chuseok (that’s choo-sock) is probably about as close to that as you can get, I figure. As I understand it, things have gotten more relaxed about the holiday of late but even still, and even in Seoul, things are closed and people are gone. There are still millions of people out and about, obviously, but I’d say the majority of businesses outside of like convenience stores are closed. Biggest travel time of the year, it seems, which is in line with the general comparisons to Thanksgiving.

I haven’t talked to loads of Koreans about it, so I can’t say exactly how it’s felt here for actual Korean people. Traditionally, Chuseok is a harvest time festival where you go to your home village and do some ancestor honoring. These days, I think it’s more just a visit family and eat kind of day, though I’m sure there’s plenty of ancestor-related things that still go on. It strikes me as sort of a straightforward family holiday but with none of the special holiday season feeling that I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Gift boxes also seem incredibly popular as gifts to give. Including, if my grocery store is anything to go by, a great deal of Spam gift sets. Which. Hm. We talked about it in class and one of my students just really loves Spam and it kind of hurt me inside but it gave me an excuse to show them the Spam song from Monty Python so everything happens for a reason, I guess.

Anyway, I have some time off! It is of no moment that I had to make up most of this time off and the rest is coming out of my vacation time. Tuesday after work (we blessedly received an extra half day), some of us went out for tacos and churros which were excellent. On Wednesday, I just walked down to the river for a little picnic and reading session. Today, I met a friend for breakfast at a fancy and delicious buffet. Tomorrow, I will go to Incheon because I miss the ocean. And on Saturday, I’m going on a hike with friends. Yay holidays that I don’t celebrate so I can spend time doing whatever I want!

The strange part is having a holiday that doesn’t move you an inch take hold of the whole country around you. Another aspect of being a minority that I’ve never had to experience and a small dose of empathy for the religious and other holiday diversity (especially since I won’t get holidays I do care about off). I think I’ve intimated here more than once how strongly I feel about Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In other Keegan news, today marks the 103rd straight day I’ve done Duolingo and I’m so pleased with myself. I don’t do much each day but hey. My Russian hasn’t totally faded into random words and terrible grammar like my German has. So I’m feeling good about that small, easy piece of self-discipline in my life.

With that, I’d like to turn to something else. I’ve let this blog see some pretty personal things in my life and it’s not a trend I feel able or willing to reverse.

So a couple months ago I wrote a post called Learning to be Proud because I was learning to be proud. But this week I think I was finally taught my first real lesson. Well, second. But. Obviously, the lesson came in the midst of a book because books are powerful.

There are so many people around the world who feel wrong and broken and hurt and confused and scared and worthless because of who they are. People who have been told or even come to believe that their inmost heart of hearts is something disgusting, sinful, and shameful. I am so proud to be gay because being proud is what it takes to refute that. Being proud is what it takes to justify our existence, the simple fact of our lives. Being proud means that I assert my worth as a human being. Being proud means that even when well-intentioned people think, at best, that I’m mistaken or making a poor choice I can say that who I am is who I was made to be.

I had no obstacles to coming out save an irrational and labyrinthine thought process that took me probably a decade to unravel. For many, their obstacles are much more tangible and damaging. I cry big, hot tears for everyone who hurts because of their sexuality or gender identity. I love you. You do not have to justify or explain yourself to me. You are real and valid and valuable and not to be ignored.

I love you I love you I love you.