Terra Cognita

Friends, it’s been an incredible week and I feel like I’m not going to be able to adequately describe it for you. But this would be a lousy blog indeed if I didn’t at least try.

On Saturday, I departed Seoul and headed out, after a short layover in Kuala Lumpur, to Sydney. I arrived in the evening and it had been raining all day. I was staying with a friend I met in the REC course in Ireland who lives in the city, and she picked me up. Straight away, she took me to the so-called Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair (named after the wife of the first governor of New South Wales) for my first iconic view of Australia–a red-illuminated Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

The rain continued pretty heavily through the night, so the next morning I decided to check off a few indoor activities. My friend lives quite in the center of the city, so it was a quick walk to the Australian Museum first thing. There were a number of beautiful and interesting artifacts, mostly from Australia and Oceania but also around the world. I learned some about Australian history, especially Aboriginal culture and modern treatment. There were also lots of animals, dinosaur bones, and a super cool mineral collection.

By the time I emerged, the rain had mostly cleared, so I took the opportunity to walk through Hyde Park and see all that’s there, including several neat statues (importantly one of Captain Cook) and a gorgeous fountain. Next, it was on to the State Library for a quick look at what I heard was a stellar reading room–it did not disappoint! Importantly, there was a monument outside to Matthew Flinders, an explorer, and beside it was a monument to his cat, Trim: “the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures.”

Then it was down the road to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. There was a special exhibition on featuring The Lady and the Unicorn, which I wanted to see. The gallery itself is in a wonderful building, as it ought to be, and the collection of Australian and international art was superb. The exhibit was super interesting, on a collection of medieval tapestries that are pretty mysterious but likely represent allegories of the six medieval senses (the sixth being that of the heart or reason).

Just cross the street from the gallery and you’ll be at the Botanical Gardens. Most of my Australian friends highly recommended it and, I’ll tell you now, I spent quite a bit of my limited time there. They were absolutely stunning. The trees, the flowers, the birds, the sun, the water. It was all pretty incredible. Pictures won’t do it, or the view, justice so you’ll just have to trust me unless you can see it for yourself.

After the gardens, it was back into the city a bit, around Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour and up an old quarry to see Anzac Bridge. I feel like I’ve written quite a bit and that was just day one but I’m not sorry and I’ll keep going.

Tuesday morning, I started relatively early to walk around a different part of town and over to Barangaroo Reserve, a lovely and relatively recently done bit of nature (not that Sydney is lacking nature). I walked around the water and across the Harbour Bridge for some more excellent views of the Opera House. Then I took the ferry (I love ferries) to Manly (supposedly so named for the very masculine aboriginals seen there by Europeans entering the harbor) for an afternoon at the beach (parenthesis parenthesis parenthesis). Manly is a wonderful and cute beachy town and I didn’t even get that sunburned!

I called it a day fairly early because that night I was due at the opera!! I had never been and I figured a world-famous landmark would be an appropriate place to see my first. It was Carmen and it was incredible though I had forgotten, spoiler alert, that Don José kills her! A terrific day and night.

On Wednesday, I met with another friend and we drove out to the Blue Mountains to see the Three Sisters. A stunning view over the valley and forest. Absolutely gorgeous countryside. We had planned on doing some more exploring but were running short on time so we just had lunch in a cute/wacky little café in Katoomba and then drove back. I left my friend in Newtown and walked back through a fun area filled with little shops and cafés and all sorts of neat places.

That night for dinner, the friend I stayed with took me to a pie place (the savory kind) apparently legendary among sailors. It’s right on the water near the naval base. So we had pies with mash and mushy peas before heading into the gardens for a deeply beautiful sunset over the city.

When I travel, I typically try to find the things that really annoy me so that I can get a balanced assessment of the place and think about whether or not I could live there. For Sydney, definitely the number one struggle would be the heat (it wasn’t even that hot for my time but I was Hot). But I think, after weighing as much information as I could, I would totally be willing to live in Sydney. So get me a job there or an Australian husband (because that’s a thing there now, yay) so I can get a visa ASAP.

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I’ve been blessed in my life to have a number of dreams come true, and the upcoming couple of weeks are going to be another one. Though in different ways and for different reasons than Croatia, I’ve long hoped to visit New Zealand and that’s where I arrived this afternoon. I’m very, very pleased to be joined by my sister and her boyfriend and we’ve quite an exciting itinerary planned. Stay tuned for adventures that will, in all probability, be beyond my description of them.

 

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Ever On and On

This is my last post in Korea, in all likelihood forever, but I don’t have a lot of profound thoughts to share. Mostly just an attempt to convey my heartfelt gratitude for the people who have become my friends here.

Before we get too far into that, though, a quick gallery of Béégashii and Lucy, possibly the cutest animals that have ever existed, I love them so much.

 

 

When I left for Korea, my step-mom sent me with a note and I’d like to share a part of it with you. She’s had a number of interesting journeys herself and I think her perspective on it all is important.

The saying that it is more about the journey is true, but sometimes I wonder as I look back on my life if we ever reach our ‘destination’ this side of heaven? I wonder if the destination is actually the present–being fully in the moment, right where we are planted–to live fully, contented, wide-eyed, learning, yearning, giving, loving–to whomever is right in front of us?

The destination that is both where we are and just out of reach. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling and who knows where else I’ll end up. Clearly, I’m all about the journey but  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, bloom where you’re planted. That’s been difficult here but I think the blossoms have been all the more beautiful for it. As they say in Mulan, the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

My time in Korea has really been… something. I’ve been trying to figure out positive and succinct ways to describe it, preparing for the inevitable deluge of questions when I get home, and it hasn’t been easy. I think I’ve managed for the job, though, so I’ll start with that.

This job consisted of three parts: the students, the coworkers, and the workplace. The students were decent, the coworkers were incredible, and the workplace was awful. I’m truly and deeply grateful for the great teachers that I got to work with who (very slowly because I suck at it) became close friends. A heartfelt shoutout to all of you, thank you for bearing with me and welcoming me into your cool kids club. I’m glad that most of my students were interesting, smart, and hard workers–it made teaching them much easier and much more enjoyable. And I’m happy to say that I will not have to work at that branch or a Korean English academy again.

I am also extremely grateful for the community I found at church. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to Korea on that front, but the place I ended up was definitely the place I was meant to find. I learned, I grew (I hope), and I made connections–again, slowly but definitely surely. Knowing you guys, studying with you, serving with you–all have been wonderful experiences.

I also want to make sure to mention the one Korean person I actually knew coming here, and say a big thank you to her and her family for meeting with me and making me feel welcome. So thanks, Yoona and your family. We had some fun adventures together.

As is usually the case, the people make the place. Thankfully, the internet will continue to keep us together, as much as it is capable. I will not be deleting my Kakao, so feel free to send me your favorite Muzi emojis. I will also request, for those of you in Korea, please send me any and all Paris Baguette pictures and updates because I will never not want those.

For those of you at home, or those who just know people who travel, I have a request. Please do not ask me how Korea was. It’s a country, it is many things. And do not ask me extremes (favorites, hardest, ect.) because I’m bad at those. There are many things that I appreciated and things I very much did not. If you really want to know, think of specific questions. What kind of food do typical Koreans eat? Did Seoul feel like a big city? Do people still wear hanbok? How do you read Korean?

In the meantime, I’m in a mad rush to pack up my entire life (yet again), teach all my classes, get all my paperwork and plans in order, and say goodbye. I’m on a plane out of the country on Saturday night, twenty-four hours after I finish teaching my last class.

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A summer sunset over the Hangang

 

So I’m leaving Korea and going on. I have some ideas but I have no intention of keeping my feet and every intention of being swept off. Sometimes, I’m learning, the important journeys are the ones you didn’t mean to make.

Same Year, Same Me?

I don’t think I’ve ever needed a vacation as much as I needed this one. It’s 설날 (Seollal). Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Happy year of the dog, everyone.

This week had a bit of a stressful start. I was trying to apply to a job that I’ve been procrastinating on since I’ve decided I really want it (the more important something is, the more I procrastinate, see: dissertation). I also had to go to the pension office to apply for my lump-sum refund. And you know how I feel about official things, especially involving money and bureaucracy.

In the event, however, it was incredibly easy. I thought that I would have to go all the way to Gangnam (an hour by subway) but there was another office in Seodaemun and that was a great discovery. Also, I walked into the building, went up to the ninth floor, and from the time I stepped out of the elevator until I stepped in again was under twenty minutes. A massive relief. So my pension refund will be a nice thing to get once I’m back in the US.

Other things that have been going on this week include packing. No one likes packing, I’m pretty sure. Packing for a fun trip can be fun, but packing your life is generally The Worst. I haven’t accumulated much here, and I’m going to leave a lot behind, so I’m trying to condense everything into two units instead of three. We’ll see how that goes. It’s frustrating because I need to wear clothes all the way until I leave–and even after that, too!–so I can’t pack all of my winter things. It’s not frigid here, but it’s still plenty cold.

On Wednesday, I had a fabulous day. It consisted of three stages. First, I played a computer game and packed intermittently which actually got me way further than I anticipated. So it was lazy and enjoyable but also super productive. Second, I reread a book (most of the book, I skipped around since I read it for the first time just a couple weeks ago). Third, I started a new Netflix series, Legion, and stayed up really late watching most of the season.

Today, I finished Legion which was excellent but I’m not sure if the forthcoming second season will be as great. I also met with some friends for lunch, noraebang (Korean karaoke-ish), and a VR café. It was a super relaxing and enjoyable day all around. I’m bound for bed early because there’s a special treat in store for tomorrow. Details and pictures to come next week.

Anyway, trying to think some thoughts for the close of my Korean year. I’m sitting here, with my partially packed suitcases on the floor, things in piles waiting to be packed or thrown away or recycled or given to friends. It’s one of my least favorite feelings–the empty room you’re still living in but only for a little longer. My room is far from empty, yet the almost-gone feeling is already seeping in around the edges.

When I sit down and try to think of what I’ve done and become this year, it seems underwhelming and, to be honest, disappointing. I had hoped to grow in faith, sociability, adulthood, who knows what else. And maybe I have in some ways, in some categories, in some situations.

I’ll tell you, before I started Legion I finished the Netflix series The Good Place about the afterlife and I’m trying to, I don’t know, just think about being a good person. I think I am, generally, so I’m not feeling down on myself or anything. But it’s that tension again between contentment and complacency. I want to be happy with who I am and still strive to become better. Not sure that this year has made me much better.

In one of my posts just before coming here, I contended that no experience is ever wasted. I still hold to that, and this year has definitely proved itself valuable. I came out to my whole family and people just generally which I mention casually but was a big deal for me. I learned a whole lot of skills on the job, dealing with children and adults. I succeeded in some small disciplines that have made small but noticeable changes in my life (ex. today was day 236 on my Russian Duolingo streak, having finished all the lessons a bit ago).

Mostly, I tried and failed a whole lot of things. And then I tried again. I imagine most of us have heard the “if at first you don’t succeed” spiel. I guess I’m starting to think that it’s not actually the succeeding that matters, but the trying. Willfully, and sometimes gleefully, making bad decisions is probably part of the human condition. (Sorry that I just used the phrase ‘human condition,’ I am what I am). But figuring out how you want to live and trying to get there, at least sometimes, I think that’s a great deal of what counts in the end.

So here’s to that. I have one week and two days remaining in this country. I keep returning to the C. S. Lewis poem that I memorized a few weeks ago: “to this moment’s choice/ Give unfair weight.”

In Which Little Is Done

I’ve been trying my darndest to come up with a topic for this week and I have failed. Normally, that wouldn’t stop me since all I put on here anyway is random nonsense. But, like, I really have nothing. Very little happened this week and I haven’t even been thinking any thoughts of note. While I try to figure something out, enjoy this two-for-one cat picture.

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I hope you enjoyed that little interlude. They’re so nice.

The main event this week was movie night which, not to sell it short, is now a typical feature in my week. This week, it was Moulin Rouge with a friend who hadn’t seen it before and now understands the magic. Such a fantastic movie, so many emotions. And honestly, the songs in it are pretty much all better than the originals. Even if I really like the originals. Just so good.

All I can think to talk about is how soon my time in Korea will be over. I’m overwhelmed, really, and so I’m not preparing nearly as much as I need to be. I have two weeks and a couple days. That’s it. While I’m definitely ready to be finished, I’m not currently ready to be telling you about my year in review, so I’ll save that I guess. Next week is a holiday and I only work Monday and Tuesday (though I’ll also be working this Saturday) so I should be able to concoct some good musings by then. Or not. We’ll see.

In the meantime… nope. Still got nothing. I’m sure I’ll meander around until I get a decent word count because, as you all know, I can ramble until I confuse even myself.

I’ve been reading again this week, finished three books. One stand alone (or I guess there’s a sequel but it ended nicely and I don’t want to read it) and the first two in a series. None of them were incredible, but all were decent. The first was just a straight-up gay romance and I was all about it (I honestly didn’t realize I just said ‘straight-up gay’ until several hours later). Pleasant characters and some surprisingly realistic moments in the midst of straight-best-friend-turns-out-to-be-bi fantasy land. The other is a fantasy series, intrigue and theft, and such like. The characters are pretty thin and nothing I want happens with them, but the plot is super interesting so I’ll continue to book three for that reason.

Man, I miss reading in the sun. In the warm.

Next week, I’ll definitely have some things to say. Hopefully, I’ll have done some packing, had a nice start to the holiday, and tell you about my big adventure coming next Friday. And then it’ll be my last week and then I’ll be on another adventure. So here’s to that.

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

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The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Daring, but Not Hardcore Daring

Author Eudora Welty once said, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well, for all serious daring starts within.” May we all find the courage and strength to dare within.

Anyway, this week marked the conclusion of intensives. Yesterday, I taught my last one ever! And wow, is it a relief. I, in fact, don’t want to say anything more about them because I’m just glad to have them finished. Suffice to say that they weren’t great and I’ll be moving on with my life now, thank you very much.

This week has also marked the return of the incredibly cold weather, with the low for tonight forecast to be a solid -2 Fahrenheit. So that’s less than ideal, as much as I like cold weather. Gratefully, I don’t have to be out and about much and my walk to work is only like ten minutes. Definitely could be worse, and I suppose it’s at least somewhat justifiable as the Winter Olympics are coming soon and I want there to be plenty of cold and snow then (though please not this cold…).

Fun story of tonight. I got home and there was a bucket catching drips right outside the door to my building. Then the lights in the hallway, which are normally motion triggered, weren’t working. Then on the second floor, people were sweeping up slush because obviously someone’s pipe burst. And then I got home, my lights were working and my water’s fine (I left it dripping) but my internet is down. So I had a little panic for a while, thinking it may somehow be related to that burst pipe, or perhaps one I couldn’t find in my apartment. But after several resets of the router, here we are. Thank goodness, I 10/10 could not handle a pipe explosion right now. Or ever.

On a much better note, we also finished Return of the King and, as I could probably write ten thousand inane blog posts gushing about it, I’ll refrain here and spare you. But that film. So much.

There’s really not much more to say this week. It’s honestly been fairly quiet and I’m grateful for it. The end of my time here is creeping up quickly and I’m partially panicking and partially doing a happy dance every waking moment. And there are certainly some things (read: people, mostly) that I’ll miss. It’s a strange feeling. Someone important once said something along the lines of being lucky to have places that are hard to leave. Not quite there on Korea but you get the gist.

I don’t want to do a whole year in review post yet, it’s definitely still premature, but I encountered the opening quote this week and couldn’t help myself from sharing it before I get to that point. But a sneak preview of some of the things I’m likely to say: this has been a year of daring within. Or, at least, trying to. Take from that what you will.

To conclude our month’s choral selections, I have put together a list of lullabies and other songs that put me in mind of evening. I hope you can give one or two a listen and find a bit of rest.

Sleepytime

  1. Seal Lullaby – Eric Whitacre
  2. Good Night, Dear Heart – Dan Forrest
  3. Lullaby – Daniel Elder
  4. Only in Sleep – Ēriks Ešenvalds
  5. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land – Edward Elgar
  6. Sing Me to Heaven – Daniel Gawthrop
  7. i carry your heart – Connor Koppin
  8. Sleep – Eric Whitacre
  9. Grace Before Sleep – Susan LaBarr
  10. The Road Home – Stephen Paulus

Side by Side

This week has been pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of intensives, it doesn’t give a lot of room for variation. As I noted last week, I did get off at 4 on Wednesday and I absolutely loved getting home before sunset and just doing nothing at home (as per usual). That evening also featured disk one of The Return of the King so the week couldn’t have been all that bad.

As a follow-up to my description of last week’s weather, here’s a glimpse of the ‘urban nature park’ on my way to the grocery store last Saturday. The waterfall has been frozen for a while, but it snowed that morning and it looked incredible. The stream was partially frozen as well.

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In addition to watching The Lord of the Rings over the past few weeks with friends (“…side by side with a friend…”), I’ve watched all the Harry Potter movies again. Four movies two weekends ago and the other four this past weekend. I just quickly wanted to say a moment–the only moment–that made me tear up for a sec.

Unpopular opinions: I don’t care that much for Dobby or Hedwig or George, not really bothered by the deaths of Remus or Tonks or Dumbledore, don’t think Snape is a good person and am not moved by his story. Harry Potter is of course fabulous and I love it, so don’t take those as criticisms. However, there was one part that got me, if just for a moment, this time around.

At the end of the end, when Harry is about to go to Voldemort in the forest, he just sort of vaguely hints that he’s a horcrux (spoiler) and only Hermione understands. Then she says, “I’ll go with you.” And that is one of the most beautiful of the many statements that the series makes about death. A friend who will fight beside you, even to death.

So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s our choral music selection. Latin music holds a very special place in both historical and contemporary Western choral musical traditions so I thought it an appropriate category. Some of these songs are quite old, some medium old, and some are much more recent but all of them come from a musical and theological tradition spanning thousands of years. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve given the English for the titles but if you’re really curious it just takes a quick Google or Wikipedia search to get the full text translated.

Latin Sacred Texts

  1. O Mangum Mysterium – Francis Poulenc (O Great Mystery)
  2. Ave Maria – Javier Busto (Hail Mary)
  3. Ubi Caritas et Amor – Ivo Antognini (Where Charity and Love)
  4. Absalon, Fili Mi – Josquin des Prez (Absalom, My Son)
  5. Angus Dei from Mass in C minor op. 147 – Robert Schumann (Lamb of God)
  6. Si Iniquitates Observaveris – Samuel Wesley (If You Mark Our Iniquities)
  7. Magnificat – László Halmos ([My Soul] Magnifies [the Lord])
  8. O Sacrum Convivium – Olivier Messiaen (O Sacred Banquet)
  9. Adoramus Te, Christe – Claudio Monteverdi (We Adore You, Christ)
  10. Amen – Henryk Górecki (not really Latin but I’m over it)