dal niente

Month: September, 2007

“No-rage iz powaaaaa!”

(from the venerable www.Megatokyo.com)

For the past two days that I’ve been in Korea, life has been going at full gallop.  I’ve been going to work for only about 7 hours or so per day but when you consider that Korea allots only 15 minutes for dinner (and not 1 hour like in Canada) it’s a pretty long day,  especially when you’re jetlagged in such a way that it feels as if you’re working 6 hours past your normal sleeping time.  The first day was killing me– I woke up at four in the morning Korean time and couldn’t get back to sleep at all no matter how I tried.  I was invariably irritible and testy all day, and I felt like an insufferable jackass how I was observing several of my new colleagues’ classes throughout the day and could barely sit up straight.  I kept on a strong face and had to keep fidgeting to stay awake– most of these classes I was observing were the classes I am to take over next week.  How’s that for a first impression?  Go in to a class, meet all your new students, and then fall asleep?

The day after (yesterday) was a bit better, and I woke up at about five, then went back to sleep and woke up again at about 7, so I’m sort of adjusting to local time gradually.  I was supposed to be at work for 1pm and I really thought I had it all down pat, but I don’t have a wristwatch since I’ve been relying on a cellphone to tell the time for the last several years I lived in Montreal.  (Note: I left my cellphone to my sister when I departed.)

So I got to work and when I didn’t see anyone, except my counselor. “Heya! Where is everyone? Am I early?” I grinned.

… turns out I was actually 5 minutes late and everyone who was supposed to be there was already there for like 10-15 minutes.

(Smooooth, man, reallll smooth.  They must think I’m a total jackass.)

Anyway, yesterday I had a better time, mostly because I was better rested.

… but on to my main subject.  The kids.

The kids in this school are great.  From the moment that 10 minutes to 4 came up (their classes in our after-school school all begin at 4) I was totally blown away– kids between about 11 and 15 years old who are just like whirlwinds, running down the corridors screaming and laughing and flailing, their bookbags bouncing about and the cacophany of mechanical pencils shaking up in tin pencil boxes.  They are so amazing to see– they are so energetic, and, honestly, so impressive!

We’re talking about Korean kids who were raised in a grammatical system and culture completely different from english, speaking better english than I’ve seen French Canadians of older ages speaking.

I watch the teachers at work.  The kids aren’t all angels– some of them are a bit bratty, and all of them are in some degree chatty.  But for the most part, the school’s dynamics are excellent and I can’t help but admire the teachers that I’ve seen at work.  It adds new dimensions to people few people I know have worked with kids; they suddenly seem stronger and taller. They make it look so easy!  How do you do that?  Being in a classroom full of students whose limitations are right in front of you, whose borders it’s your job to push?

When I had started college back in Montreal, I was telling myself that I never wanted to teach anything lower than college level English.  I had this idea in my head that I was to be an English major and that if I wanted to actually teach English, I couldn’t spend half my time disciplining the class– I needed an audience that already had the foundations, otherwise, i wouldn’t find my work significant or rewarding.

Now, I don’t want to jinx it: but I can say with a certain degree of certainty that I was very naive and downright pompous to think that there was no worthwhile work to be done in English at the younger ages.  This looks, on the contrary, to be some of the most meaningful work that I will do in my lifetime.

And I’ll be honest– at this point, for the first time since I got to Korea, as I sat there in the corner of the room watching 10 children screaming “Me! Me! Me!” as they waved their hands around or jumped out of their seats, I felt scared.

Felt? No– more like feel.  This is a clear and present emotion, tugging at the lower ends of my stomach.

Pastoral poetry talks about the ‘sublime’, that which in nature is so awesome in it’s simplicity that you’re just speechless, and have this simultaneous experience of both awe and terror.

The classroom is sublime.  Nothing gets you more to the heart of humanity than looking at its kids, I realize now.  They are the future– and somehow, I’m going to be standing in front of that classroom.  What do I have to offer them?

At one of the classes I was observing, there were an odd number of students and the teacher wanted to do an activity.  One of the kids in the class, Larry, was clearly the ‘weakest link’ and as a result, he was constantly disrupting the class with outbursts.  He was the most physical of all the students I’d ever seen– he’d even gone as far as punching one of his classmates and making rabbit ears behind the head of the visiting director.  He stood out within the first minute of the two hour class.

The activity was a vocabulary game called “stop the bus”.  The teacher had five categories: animals, transportation, clothing, English proper names, and verbs.  Then she’d call out a letter of the alphabet, and the two person teams were to come up with a word for each category as fast as they could. Whichever team that came up with a full set first would yell “STOP THE BUS!” and have the answers verified on the board in front of the class, and win a point if they were all valid.

Larry’s one of the shy ones in the sense that although he’s the loudest and most hyper, he reverts often to Korean which gets him in a lot of trouble.  I think his inability to express himself as well as the other students really frustrates him, despite his cheerful countenance. For the game, he was paired with me by the teacher, which I thought was surprising.  Obviously, I have a bit of an edge over the average 11 year old Korean kid when it comes to English vocabulary.  But I played along, and did some good work– instead of giving him the words, I’d hint him in the direction of them.  For the letter H, I’d point to his head.  (“Head? Hat? HAT!”  “Hey, don’t say it so loud, the other teams will steal your answer!” “Okay, what about an action? It sounds like hat too.”  “Hot? Hip? Hit? HIT!” [scribble scribble] “What about a name? This is easy.  What were you writing on the board before?” “I amu Larry Potteru?  Larry! ano, meaning I, Harry!”)

And he even surprised me: I was personally stumped at the letter “L”, because I couldn’t think of a form of transportation that began with an L, nor could I offhand think of any clothing that begun with L except “loafers” but I figured there’d be no way for me to hint him in that direction.  But what he did was steal answers from the previous questions:  “Long bus!” and “Long jacket!”

I just stared at him.  The kid is brilliant.  He reminds me of the savages I used to know back at MAC who were all great people from the very begining, and were just perfecting the outlets to bring themselves into the world.  All of these children, they have that sort of fighting spirit that most people lose as they grow older– the fighting spirit that is built upon no real conscious sense of limitations, and fueled by curiosity and recklessness.

Later on, at the end of the class, Larry gave me a hug.  “Komapsumnida, [Jinryu]!”

Later on in the teacher’s room, Colleen, the teacher for that class, told me: “Larry’s taken a liking to you just like that, he told me after class that you’re a great teacher.”

I laughed.

This madness brewing inside of me is exhilirating.  I can’t really describe it any better than that.  I don’t know if I’ll be a good teacher; I’ve heard horror stories, and I’ve seen even one or two unfolding right in front of me as I observed some of the classes.   But this is where it’s all at– this is where tomorrow begins.

That’s where my fear comes from. I mean, sure– being in front of a room full of kids scares me a bit.  But it’s not that.  It’s the ‘tomorrow’ thing.  Not my tomorrow– their tomorrow.  The cultural books I’ve read speak about Korea’s highstanding opinion of teachers as the forefathers of Korea’s future– it sounds corney, but in reality, the truth is that simple.  And that responsability is heavy.  And that responsability is frightening.  I dread tomorrow.

Well actually, tomorrow (today actually, since it feels like the same day just because of my sleeping cycle) is my day off. On monday, I have a few more classes to observe, then I have to give a demonstration of my lesson.  By tuesday, I’ll be a teacher.  I am terrified.

At the same time, I feel just…. well. I can’t really describe it.  Imagine that? An English teacher lacking words.  There isn’t a set of words that can really describe what I’m feeling right now. 

I think of Larry though; he’s my first Korean student.  There’s a lot of power in these kids, it’s scary.  It feels like I’ll be teaching future superheroes or something, they have so much potential– one wrong step and the world might lose these kids and their energy. I’m afraid of  influencing them in the wrong way.

I look at what made me who I am today– and like any of you, I cannot say that it’s been all roses. We’ve all done bad things, right?  We’ve all been ‘bad people’ in some degree or another, we’ve all done things that weren’t exempliary, that we wouldn’t want to teach our children.  So why put someone like that, why put you or me or anyone who isn’t less than a saint in front of that whiteboard?

Because you’re we’re the only ones who’ve seen the world that they haven’t.  This is what they need to know.  They will grow up, they will make their own mistakes, but in the mean time– they need the tools, the power, to make their moves.  If you asked me, am I ready, my answer? Hell no.

But who is?  If you ask me am I going to try, perhaps these are the words that actually sum up what I feel about everything so far:

“Fuck, yes.”


There are no street names in Korea.

There are no addresses.

I love it because that means that everyone in Montreal who made fun of the fact that I navigated the city without maps or street names would BURN if they were out here.

That said, I bought a cheap mountain bike out here today, it cost me about 110$ CAD.  It’s pretty much a stock bike, no suspension, very basic deraileurs and everything– basic everything, basically.  I had the choice of spending an extra 20 bucks for the same model with a suspended fork, but I figured, why bother, in all honesty no suspension is better than cheap suspension anyhow.  All that matters to me is that the brakes are good, the tires are knobby and that the chain is strong. 

All I really need now is a GPS but I’m wondering if I can survive without that. The main reason why I want one is because being on bike makes it a lot faster to get lost and miss your destination.  The main problem, of course, is that I have no clue how to actually buy a GPS. I mean, I know a little about them, more than the average person I suppose, but not enough to really make an informed descision, and to compound matters I can’t read enough Korean to understand the local tech specs, much less find a store that actually sells them.  There’s the local E-Mart (the equivalent of Walmart) but I think it’s probably more expensive out there. I’ve been finding car navigation systems and GPS receiver adapters (bluetooth) but I haven’t been able to find any handheld units… I want something that basically give me longitude and latitude, with a compass on it.  I’m not asking for an internal map, just give me the numbers and I’ll figure it out.

I’m thinking, it’s probably cheaper to buy locally, but maybe it’ll be possible as well to have something shipped from Canada along with some other household items all at once.  I’m trying to think, if I have a package sent to me from Canada, what would I need…?

Welcome to Korea

Looks like I made it safe and sound to Korea!

The flight itself was a pretty testing experience, but I survived, somehow.

I’m in my new apartment.  I got here late last night so I didn’t get to see much, but so far, things are awesome.

Unfortunately, since I gave up my cellphone to my sister, I won’t have any decent pictures for a while. I picked up a Logitiec STX Communicator cam (webcam) and that’s what I used for these photos.  They’re blury because of the lowlight conditions at night, but I wanted to get a few shots in before the place changed too much. Photos can be found here:

How awesome? Let me list the awesome.

  • my apartment is WAY cleaner and fancier than I predicted (yay for low expectations!)
  • the washroom is WAY cleaner and fancier than I expected (yay for low expectations!)
  • my guitar survived transit in one piece, even though there are a few harrowing marks on the case.
  • I found a wifi connection, so that means I’ll probably be saving about 30$ CAD per month (about 30$ USD for you US readers). That is, assuming that they don’t turn off their wifi or secure the access point with a password. There are, in any case, at least 2 wifi transmitters somewhere within range of my apartment.  One of them works at 20% signal flawlessly from my walk-in closet/balcony.
  • I have a walk-in closet!
  • The place came with more cooking utensils than I thought
  • I got to try my Korean speaking skills for the first time in a local convenience store– and I wasn’t laughed out! I did pretty well, I think 😉
  • Nimbus says she’s dropping by Korea sometime next year
  • the internet here, even at 20% signal strength, is at least twice as fast as my connection at home in Montreal.
  • i probably have unlimited internet (goodbye 2gig caps!)
  • Korea has no street names. Thus, it’s VERY hard to find anything. But, I managed to triangulate my position based on photocopied maps and the internet, so now I’m gradually mapping out my immediate surroundings on Google Earth (I’ve been at it for the past hour).
  • I managed to fix the cable on the television so I now have like 40 channels of nonstop Korean television.
  • My new air conditioner is super silent compared to what I’ve used in Montreal.
  • my new laundry machine kicks the ass off my old laundry machine in Montreal.
  • I have a GAS STOVE which means that I can do some real hardcore POWER COOKING OMG (not like some weaksauce electrics!)
  • all the drawers in my dresser are EMPTY which means I can fill them however I like!
  • T is arriving somewhere in Korea sometime later today.

Downsides so far:

  • because I mistried my password 3 times (finally remembering it on the 4th) I’m locked out of my online banking back in Montreal. (I’ll have to call them up at some point)
  • the flight here was a pain in the ass, literally and for other reasons.
  • my aunt and my mom are with me for at least 10 more days while they sightsee in Korea, and surviving with their constant presence in such closed quarters, especially since they’ve taken it upon themselves to ‘fix up my place’ will be trying my mental health.

Well, downsides are downsides, but as you can see, the downsides are all resolved or resolvable issues, and they’re far outweighed by the cool things.


Insert Disc 2

You ever play those oldschool japanese RPGs on Playstation, like Final Fantasy, and then at some point, the game stops and tells you you’ve got to get to put in the next disc?

“Do you wish to save?”

(Yes! Of course! What if I make some wrong choices?!)

… that disc change is like a landmark.  It means something big.  It means you’ve got “all that” behind you, and “all this” in front of you.  At the very moment when this screen shows up, you can take a break.  Get up, go to the washroom.  Get a snack.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on how you look at it)
real life doesn’t stop going, so in about 8 hours, I have to load up
the next chapter of my life.

The first disc is all about familiarizing yourself with the basics of gameplay. You get a sense of the basic mechanics of the world, you learn a few tricks here and there, but most of all, it’s your chance to develop a comfort in the world that you can build out of.

Anything after the first disc builds upon everything you’ve accomplished in the first.  The plot thickens.  The heroes and heroines, and lets not forget the villains, develop further, and we discover more about them.  What began as an innocent adventure twists into a dark struggle for the fate of mankind.  The whimsical tunes of childhood become fullblown orchestrations that reminisce of simpler times in the midst of the darkest hours.

This is very likely the last post I’ll be making from Montreal in a long, long time.

Does it sound like I dred the future?

I don’t.  I really don’t.  Even if the tone here sounds dark, that’s because quite frankly, sometimes I love sitting in the dark.  I get some of my best thinking done in the dark, don’t you?

Call me crazy, but by imagining a dark future I just imagine a glorious opportunity to find some light.  I guess I’m just setting the stage for myself.  That’s what disc 1 was all about, right?

When I get to the flipside, it may take a few weeks before I can get internet up and running.  Thanks to everyone who commented or messaged me with their wishes of safe travels!  I’ll be sure to write as soon as I get the chance.

In a Nutshell

… everything I need to spend a year on my own fits in one-and-a-half luggages, a guitar case, and a laptop bag.

Is this what 25 years adds up to?

I guess… why not?

Everything I need to live is in me.

The Third World In Retrospect


(This post is about as long and aimless as they come)

“I had diarrhea for 6 weeks! I was only in India for FIVE!” Mark wailed.

Traveling to a third world country really puts things into perspective.

I spent most of the night yesterday trading stories of my travels in Philipines for Mark’s in India to Philipines and it was good for me, I think.

When I went to Asia last month, I covered four countries.  Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Philipines.  The country that gave me the most mixed feelings was the Philipines.  It was there that I saw the the largest range of experiences, literally in story from cradle to grave.

I think largely I got frustrated trying to talk to people in Montreal about it because the first people I spoke to were an older crowd of relatives.  This changes their involvement as an audience for two reasons:

Firstly, they always assume that they know better than me.  So when I say that the situation in Philipines is “complicated” it doesn’t matter what comes out of my mouth after that point– they’ve already decided that, in their aged wisdom, they know what “complicated” means, and that I’m just getting a taste.

Secondly, they’re the sorts of people who go to places as tourists. I mean, they go into countries or try do things as outsiders, never really allowing themselves to become truly involved in certain things.  When they visit countries, it’s more to take photographs with them in the foreground and some monument in the background so they can go home and say “I was there” rather than to actually go somewhere and understand the philosophical, cultural and historical significance of something beyond that “those foreign countries are so crazy compared to Canada.”  It’s a real ‘point and stare’ menality where there’s a clearcut division between “them” and “us”.

Not reallIy having reflected on these things prior to telling them about my travels, I was extremely disheartened when I wanted to tell them all about it and ask them for their insight and all I got was “Yeah, that’s pretty bad out there, huh?  So, did you buy a lot of stuff?”

I mean…


… I felt like a hippie.  I was trying to tell them the genuine disgust I felt as some sights of poverty that I saw out there, and also some of the most heartwarming scenes that seemed even more real than in Canada because it was in contrast to such dire circumstances.  But they weren’t really listening to me.  It just went right through them, I felt they were humoring me at best.

…. it is through the past few weeks though that I came to terms with things a bit better.  Asia, as a whole, was really a philosophical shock to me– I do not say that lightly.  I say without being in the slightest bit exaggerative when I say I do not scare easily.  Nor am I am not easily at a loss for words.

…Yet, in a very strange and powerful way, the thing that was most shocking was coming back to Canada.

Let me tell you a few stories of the experiences I had in Asia.

Road rage? What road rage?  In the Asian countries that I visited, the car honk isn’t an artificial simulation of a swear word.  People don’t toot it to tell you to piss off, they don’t jam it down to tell you fuck you and die.  They beep it as a warning. Are you trying to pass a slower vehicle?  Are you coming in on a pedestrian who isn’t looking in your direction?  Toot your horn and inform them of your presence.  That’s all it is.

Even with the close scrapes, I mean literally within an inch of eachother, vehicles that I saw never hit the horn as a signal of disrespect.

The streets in any asian country may have lines– dashed, solid, double, mixed– just like in North America.  But people seldom pay attention to them.  They aren’t lines; they are, very loosely, guidelines.  And so it is that in every conceivable nook an cranny, there is either a car or a scooter or a bicycle or a pedestrian or a tuk tuk or a moto-tricycle or whatever.  Every inch of available floor space is used.

In North America, we watch Hollywood movies and we think that the high speed car chase is the most awesome thing possible.  We think that that is skill, that a revving engine and a big engine between our legs is somehow a social mark of power.

I’ve always held that equipment is only secondary to skill.

So when some guy starts drag racing down a residential zone with his screeching on the pavement, am I impressed?

Not in the slightest.

It doesn’t take a strong engine to skid your tires– it only takes cheap ones that don’t grip.  It doesn’t take a strong engine just to make a lot of noise– just a cheap muffler.  It doesn’t take any skill to stand on the gas.

It does take a shitload of stupidity to start racing in a residential zone with children playing in the streets.

But you won’t see people with that luxury in most urbanized Asian places.  If you want to show off your superiority behind the wheel, why not do it the way that Asian transportion earned my awe?

Pedal a tricycle uphill while carrying 2 passengers.  Weave your bicycle through traffic on a highway during monsoon rain that’s 3 inches high.  Cut accross 5 lanes of traffic wihtout causing an accident.

If there is one very differing concept between the East and West, it’s this idea of ‘rights’ and ‘entitlement’, which is something that reminds me a lot of old conversations with Chili.

The main thing is that the grandchild of all the freedom of the west is this idea that people are entitled to things.  I am entitled to protection by the law.  I have the right of way on the road when situation X happens.  I have the right to an education.  I have the right to bitch at the counter when my food gets to me cold.  I have the right to speak to the manager when I think that the seller is discriminating against me.  I have the right to feel safe.  I have the right to feel comfortable.  I have the right to be protected by the laws all about rights so as long as I play the game.

I have rights.

In Asia– who are you kidding?

You have no rights.

On the day I arrived in Manilla for the first time, the country was raining hard as the coat tails of the Taiwanese typhoon passed nearby.  We got into the car at the airport, and promptly got stuck in traffic for two hours for a distance that was less than 30 km away.  We were told not to open the windows– not only was the rain toxic, the air on roadways could cause sickness in foreigners unaccostomed to it.  Further, leaving a window open in Quezon City was an invitation to a carjacking.

When we got into an underground tunnel, I noticed that there were no lights on.

“They don’t put lights in the tunnels anymore,” said my uncle “because someone a few years ago figured out that with a modified firetruck, you could steal all those expensive bulbs.”

And so for several years, tunnels throughout Manilla have been illuminated only by the procession of head and taillights.  At the lowest point of the tunnel, I could see the water going more than halfway up some of the cars’ wheels.

I began to doze off, my head against the glass– the traffic was so long.  Nothing was happening.

I heard a tapping noise behind me. “Sweet @(%#*@ jeezus!” I jumped, seeing a face in the window suddenly.  It was a man with a hollow expression, holding up a sausage on a stick.  My uncle, without thinking about it, without making eye contact, waved the man on when he approached by the driver side window.  The strange food vendor’s expression did not change– he simply waded through the tunnel water in the obscurity, going from car to car trying to sell his snacks.

We’re talking about him sloshing through a foot of tunnel water– water that’s absorbed nothing but car exhaust and the carcinogens of residual engine oil and brake dust– and he’s selling hotdogs to people stuck in traffic.

As we inch through the tunnel, we’re offered several other things as well, ranging from wallets to rice cakes.

Later when I got to Tacloban, I saw the flipside of the corruption.  I mean, why it happens.

I’m reminded of the phrase “beyond good and evil”.  Not that it’s totally appropriate, but really, what I’m thinking is that there’s a very fine line between right and wrong, and sometimes, there is no line– the two are intrinsicly and unavoidably linked.

It was in Tacloban that I got to see what family life in the Philipines was like.  People protect their own– that’s why the backwards lawlessness of the country happens.  Because people will do anything for family.  Family is the begining and the end of all things in the Philippines.

WHen my mother ran into one of her high school friends, that friend instantly organized a high school reunion of her entire class.  There was karaoke, there was lots of food, and everyhing.    Over 30 people had instantly mobilized within half a day to greet us.

And the next day, there was another party.

And the day after, there was to be another one, but we couldn’t attend since we had to fly out.

My point is– that camraderie is so much stronger than what I see in Canada.  In Canada, everyone has to check their schedules and see if they can figure out a suitable time that everyone can meet. We have to plan it days, sometimes weeks in advance.  In Philippines?  No.  We will drop everything to be with you.  Family is first.

In order to protect that, people will break the law.  Even ‘the law’, I mean, the police, they will do what they must to survive. That means arresting people for violations, only to take bribes to put in their own pockets.  It happens all the time, everyone knows it– it’s part of the game.

The extent to which lawlessness prevails can be best summed up by the 50k peso price on a human life.  If you accidentally kill someone, you’re expected to pay about 50k pesos (a bit over 1000 USD/CAD) to the family, sort of like a life insurance payout. 

If you’re rich– well, it’s apparently quite easy to arrange for whatever you want.

Anyway, all this is to say something simple: you could die at any time.  On purpose.  Or by accident. 

And this leads me back to the culture shock I experienced when I came back to Montreal.

Do you know how ludicrous it seems to me when people stick their heads out of their car windows and start swearing, shaking their fists at other drivers in rushour traffic?  I see people on highways, sometimes in the cars that I’m in, driving as if people are personally out to get them.  Every shift of the flow of cars is either a personal attack or at least a lack of respect.

In Asia, traffic is ten times worse in any country than in Canada or US.  Nobody gets upset.  There’s no reason to– what does it change in the situation?  They just don’t.  They’ve moved on.

The other day, while in downtown St. Cathering, walking with Carlo, we witnessed a screaming fight between a woman and some guy over a parking spot.  There was yelling loud enough to be heard all over the block about who deserved the space and all that.  It was ugly, and if you ask me, they were both sort of embarassing themselves.

Is that what life is supposed to be about? Getting all riled up over stupid little things?

I’ve seen ten year old children wearing only their underwear in typhoon rain, funneling rainwater off a CocaCola ad into cups to drink in the streets, only blocks away fom a Church which only the rich can enter.  That kid is thankful for a lot of things.  Does he look upset about anything? 

How easy is it to get upset about not getting what we think we deserve?  What we’re entitled to?

A lot of modern North America is luxury, in the most accurate sense.  Things we think we need, we don’t really– we just want them.  People will say they need that car or that shirt, or whatever– when really, what do they really know about needs when every one of our basic survival needs is automatically handed to us?

I do not want to sound preachy, but it is inevitable: there are so many people out there who live with so much less than us, and they live, on top of that, happily.

Coming back to Canada, I found it ludicrous that people are already losing their temper when they wait in line to buy a bus pass.  Why can’t people be more patient?

When we arrived in Tacloban airport, the luggage area doesn’t have any conveyor belts– they just put all the luggage on a knee -high counter, and everyone just sort of milled about trying to claim what was theirs.  Some people were even standing on the counter. There is no such thing as a lineup. If you can surive, i mean, tolerate and be okay with that, well, most of the things that North America gets upset about seem stupid in comparison.

When I got back to North America, the idea that I could walk into a store and see the same shirt in 4-5 designer colors selling for three digit price tags was ludicrous.  The same shirts could sell for under ten dollars in the Philippines– and, I don’t care what you think, a shirt in America is the same as a shirt in Philippines.  The only difference is that there are so many middle men making huge profits.

Basic hygene– some toilets in Asia were basically like a urinal in the floor.  You squat to do your number two.  There is no toilet paper.  Flushing?  The flushing system is a barrel full of water with a measuring-cup-sized pail, which you use to throw water to wash your shit down the hole.

As Mark mentiond about India, there are corners of the Philippines and Thailand where so called ‘extinct’ illnesses such as black plague, typhoid and polio are still in existence.

Now, where does this all leave me thinking about 1st world North America?

There’s a lot of things that cross my mind.  Firstly, that a lot of the pace of North America really isn’t as efficient as we think it is.  We like to think that we live stressfull lives because we’re getting somewhere, but the fact is, a lot of that stress has to do with the upkeep of unnecessary things that really have nothing to do with our happiness.  The statement “more is better”, without qualification, without thought, is one of the biggest myths propogated by our consumer culture.

Before I left for Asia, I already had that suspicion.  After returning from it, no doubts remained– we can do so much with so little, if only we can focus on what is important.

And what is important?

That’s a bit hard to say.  But as the saying goes, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 1000 ways that don’t work,” becoming a better person isn’t easily about ‘finding the answer’ but also by the active elimination of false leads.

During the summertime, we complain about traffic to get to downtown.  It doesn’t compare to Asian traffic in any country where the maximum speed is somewhere less than 20kmph in a roadway where the air has enough carbon to lower your life expectancy by the double digits.  We have so much difficulty commiting to use something like a bicycle, or to wear anything but brand name shoes, when people in asia run taxis carrying five passengers up hills with pedal power alone, wearing flipflops that do nothing to protect their feet from foot high monsoon water mixed with backed-up sewage.

Who’s got the worse situation?  But that’s not my point– my point is, who’s doing the most complaining? 

I cannot agree that money is the end of my life.  It may sound harsh of me, but I agree with Mark on many matters.  Thes most loud point I can make is when I see people stressing out, to the point of violence, over their rights to a parking space to the point where they’d be throwing out profanities and shaking white-knuckled fists in rage over who has the right of way.  What the fuck is wrong with you people??

When you go to a third world country, you really realize that life is worth only as much as you make it worth, and even if it’s worth that much, there is never any guarantee that you’ll be allowed to continue it.  It can end in an instant.  It costs only 50000 pesos for you to be forgotten. In other countries, you just won’t be noticed– you might be the body covertly chopped into cubes in a box at a street corner as a warning for local gangs not to fuck with the local ‘law’.  You might die of dehydration during a rainy season (ironically), because overworked sewage backs up and you get sick with diarhhea as your body tries to eliminate poison from your system.  There are many ways for you to get hurt, or sick, or to die.

Yet somehow, third world countries know something about the essentials of life that first world countries are so clueless to.

Am I idealizing it?  It’s not that simple.  I would never wish for North America to have the living conditions of a third world country.  However, I do wish that we could learn a thing or two about the word “value”.

Is there a connection that can be made?  I look at some of the concerns in North America.  For example, the ongoing debate about global warming.  As somewhat of a pro-greener myself, I will admit something that would contradict the efforts of environmental groups in North America– and that is that the chances we can make a difference are very slim.

We can recycle.  Sure.  We can lower emissions.

Do you know what the recycling program in a third world country is like?  It is using glass bottles as a home-brew of barbed wire by cementing broken shards as toppings to walls. Emissions reductions is wearing a mask over your face so you don’t suck so much smog as you ride your motorcycle down a 10 lane motorway.

For every inch that we save in North America, the exponential growth rate of Asia takes a mile more.

A lot of the motorized vehicles in Thailand and Philipines still use leaded fuel, which has been banned in most countries because– well, it’s LEAD.  Remember the Romans and their lead plumbing, and all their crazy ass emperors commiting incest, rape and dancing to the fiddle as the city burned?  Lead does crazy shit to your body, none the least of which is lopping years off your lungs if it’s airborn in a thick pasty cloud of smoke.

Are you really going to go to a third world country and say to a man, “Gee sir, I know that you need to use leaded fuel to run your taxi and put bread on the table, but really, it’s bad for the environment.  Would you mind maybe switching to a cleaner fuel?”

What cleaner fuel?

But am I saying that it’s futile, and that the world is doomed to environmental catastrophe?

No.  Quite the opposite.

We need to do our best– because we can.  Because others don’t have that option.  Others who have less options make so much more with what they have. North America is in the business of hoarding options.  You know what those options are called?  Dollars.

What is a dollar, when you think about it, but a representation of time and work?  The more money you have, the more ‘freedom’ you have.

And yet… squandered.  What really is the difference between being well off and poor if money is only spent on meaningless things that bring no real happiness to the person?

Let me emphasize something: “real happiness”.

For different people, this means different things.  What I do find though is that people often don’t dig deep enough to figuring out what really makes them happy.  Or, they’re afraid of what makes them happy.  They’re afraid to let that part of them out or to show it off.

Instead, they settle for things that are publicly accepted as happy-makers.  Thus, for some reason, it’s okay to say out loud that you want to buy this new BMW (a BMW that you’ll trade in in a few years, if statistics are any indication) and it’ll make you happy, and yet, when someone says she wants to be a housewife, love her husband forever and spend the rest of her life raising children, people start whispering femminist rhetoric.

Screw the rhetoric!  If you find what makes you happy, you have found something that exists outside of the moneyline.  Then money and material posessions fall back to the background, getting out of the way of REAL life, returning to what they were meant to be– tools.

And if we want to get into metaphors, my problem with most of North American culture is that it doesn’t value what you can use these tools for.  It places the emphasis on having the biggest toolshed with the biggest collection of tools.  High end this, high end that– the limitation on human potential isn’t, in most cases, the equipment– it is the willpower and the dedication behind the user.

This is the difference between the poorer corners of Asia and most of North America.  Asia’s culture is dictated by practice– North America’s culture is dictated by theory.  What I mean by this is that tools in Asia are exactly that: tools.  Tools in North America are not just tools, and are seldom used in the guerilla fashion that would make them truly efficient.  Tools in North America are just as often used as symbols of power or status in a facade of meaningless social heirarchy that amazingly perpetuates itself through the generations.

Why go through all that trouble?

In the past few weeks I have spend a lot of times with friends and family, as I near my departure for Korea.  In exchanging stories, I say without hesitation that the greatest emotions that I hear about come from the events in which my friends have connected with something.  I mean, when something deep inside of them connects with something outside of them and allowed them to grow in ways that made them irreversibly changed.  I never hear about a material possession being in itself the real prize.  It’s what such tools give them.  In the end, what’s ‘real’ turns out to be exactly what we cannot see or touch.  It all comes down to feelings.

It was a pair of running shoes that represented the first step in a few laps around a park.  It was a descision to let the loved one free. It was moving out to find independence and to risk it all for a dream. It was a secret love that couldn’t happen.  It was defiance of parental expctations to find one’s own path.  It was making it into the finals, only to lose by a point.  It was slaving over the soil so that the sphagetti sauce could be made with home-grown tomatoes.

THESE are the things people tell me about.  And so it is my asssumption that these are the most important things to them.

These are the things– the senses of good pride and loss that make people feel closer to who they want to be.  The emotions that drive us.  These things, Asia knows and North America knows– but I fear that oftentimes, we lose sight of what it means to allow ourselves sensations.  We get used to the idea of being numb.

I say, when you’re in a bad mood, when you’re depressed… soak in it.  Savor it.  It’s part of who you are.  If you turn into a monster, so be it!  You can’t fight it if it’s really a part of you, can you?  If you try to run, you’ll only be running from yourself. 

And so it is my usual advice that when tough times come up, you don’t waste too much energy fighting it… just let the resistance fade, take it for what it is.  Don’t try to mask it with other things, like so many people who get into bad habits just to break out of another.

If I can just use it as a verb, I’d tell you to “Zen” your way through life.  Weathering storms has a LOT to do with perspective, a lot to do with the flexibility of your mind to see even the negative in a positive way.  A lot of useless shit falls away automatically when you decide that your hardships aren’t just obstacles, but stepping stones.

Confidence comes from knowing that you are the kind of person who will do things without wavering.

…. working in a hospital already tainted my view on life, because we had to deal with so much death.  Asia hammered the point in– a North American death is oftentimes in a hospital bed, and it’s predicted.  In Asia, the greater ratio is in the streets, and it is for the most part unpredicted.

With the Third World nations in such self destructive circles, what can we really do, you may ask?  How can we change that?

I can’t tell you what you can do for people half a world away.  I don’t beleive that that sort of colonial approach is justified, nor was it, nor will it be–

— at least, not until you clean up your own backyard.

That means that you need to live your life to the maximum of your potential.  That means that, if people in Third Worlds lack opportunities and you have them, you damn well better make use of them because that, ladies and gentlemen, is your lot.  You have no right to those opportunities– no more than a person hit by a bus some day could say “Hey, that’s not fair!”

You have no right to these opportunities, you only have the luck that they are yours at the moment.  So don’t waste them.  Stop thinking about what society wants from you, start thinking about what you want for yourself, and how you yourself can change the world.  Society doesn’t dictate what you do– you ARE society, remember?  Stop chasing your own tail!  Walk in whatever direction you want!

And for the love of God, think about what you want, think about what makes you truly feel things.  Forget about all that crap that you think you want.  You know what I mean– when I ask you what you want, and you give me an answer with hesitation when somewhere, in your stomach, there’s this tightening feeling like you’re telling me a white lie.  Trust that feeling.  It’s only through introspection into the very nature of your emotions that you’ll ever be able to connect with anyone else, and I firmly beleive that it is through this connection that we can change the world.

Through the Looking Glass

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Where my bike used to be was nothing.  Not even the remains of a broken lock.  And where I had left my biking shoes, someone had replaced it with a pair of high-top boots with tassles, the kind that a professional wrestler like Tatanka might have worn back in the 90s.  They even took my shoes!

I raced around the private garage, though in the back of my panicked head I knew calmly and with certainty that yes, that was where I had locked my bike.  And now it was gone.  It was the first time I parked it in this lot.  I should have known that nothing in the Philippines was safe.  At that moment, I became a little more racist, predicting correctly in advance that the attendant at the door “saw nothing”.

…. and then I woke up.

It was something like 4am today when I woke up.  (I went back to sleep at around 6am, then woke up just now to write this.) You know that sensation where you just wake up from a dream, and you know later that it was a dream, but you’re not sure if it was because it seemed so real? It took me who knows how long to realize that I wasn’t back in the Philippines.  Was that a nightmare?  Sort of, I suppose.  It wasn’t really scary, more sort of upsetting and frustrating, but it did have strong enough violent emotions that it might as well have been fear.  It woke me up.

Part of the problem was that I had gone to sleep really early the night before– really early meaning, at latest, 10pm– whereas normally I’d sleep at something like 2-3 in the morning.  For a while I lay there, tossing restlessly and in a half-daze in my bed between the wall and my laptop, which I had fallen asleep next to.  With my foot, I felt my bare matress where the sheets had come undone.

As the memory of the ‘bike theft’ began to fade quickly, I felt assurance: only my dreams disappear that fast.  It couldn’t have been real then.  That is my criteria for a dream– it is the memory that fades quicker than real memory.

And then I think about other things, things that get me out of bed in the morning.  Because I’ve already had my requisite 6 hours of sleep for the day, it’s going to be real tough to fall back asleep at this point.  Maybe I can get some work done.  But like waking up at 8am, 9am or 10am, waking up at 4am requires some motivation.  It needs some purpose.

Automatically, involuntarily, I think about her.

A few days ago was my quarter-century day.  I’m 25 years old now.  So much has been happening lately!  In the past quarter-year, I finished university; I finished a teaching program (where I met a bunch of highly ambitious and optimistic people who have, in no small way, inspired me to continue with my path); I met T (while high, probably due to second hand weed, in a very expensive restaurant); I went to Asia (where I took 15 planes and visited cities in four different countries).  Yeah, seriously.  Shit has just been rolling along.

To be honest, the only thorn in my side was that certain things were operating on time limits.

Because of Korea, where I’ll be teaching for a year.  I never intended to spend as much time with T as I did in the beginning.  When I confessed my feelings for her, I couldn’t even be sure if it was a mistake or not.  Part of me told me that the liberation from such a heavy truth was worth it. 

The other part told me that realistically, I’d set myself up for failure– that, live as we may as if every day were our last, I’d have to leave at some point.

Further, the chances of her coming back to Korea to teach for a second year were next to nothing.  Everything was lined up against us– she had a potential job lined up in Toronto, family and friends in Montreal, she’d already ‘done’ Korea and, most of all, she believed so much in the experience of teaching in Korea that she would never want to interfere in mine.  She wouldn’t want to come if only because she could only be a distraction to me.

It doesn’t have to be Korea, really– it just has to be somewhere where I’m on my own, surrounded by nothing familiar.  To be in that situation is a chance to really figure out who you are, you see.  I hear this word “comfort zone” a lot, and really, it translates a lot to “satisfying expectations”.  Comfort zones are formed because of everything that’s familiar to you– friends, family, culture– because you know it.  It is it’s own reason.

But it has consequences.  Those being that it acts as a framework, an exoskeleton.  Flippin Kimchi mentions the idea of internal versus external individuality (http://www.xanga.com/flipping_kimchi/617095738/item.html) which i think is fitting for this discussion.  It mirrors a lot of my own thoughts about how who we are and who we present ourselves in public are two very different people.  The “comfort zones” that we’re in, actually, to some extent, only allow for certain ranges of who we are to come out.  So– a new country, a blank slate– all these things are invaluable in finding the self.  To start from scratch is a golden opportunity.

And the responsible person in me agreed with her on all these points.

Our strange relationship would be short lived, the termination coinciding with my flight to Korea.

Do I need to get into the details?  It wasn’t an easy decision for her, lets just say.  There are a lot more factors involved than what I mention in this post, but that’s her story to tell.  I kind of feel bad because really, I had no choice in the matter– my road was already set, so I didn’t have to go through any of the overthinking.  I just sort of sat there as a spectator in the grass, just watching and listening to it all unfolding. The best I could do was to be supportive of her decision either way.  I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to try and push her in either direction.  Sometimes, it was easy. Sometimes, I felt myself feeling selfish.

I wouldn’t say I did a whole lot of overthinking.  Thinking, in my opinion, means working your brain towards a certain goal.  But since the choice wasn’t mine, and I’d decided that I wouldn’t interfere, there really wasn’t any thinking on my part to be done.

But I can tell you… I certainly did a lot of wishing and a lot of dreaming.  For what exactly, I won’t tell you– that’s a bit complicated. And you know what?  Call it coincidence, but for better or worse, I got it.

And then, something happened. On my birthday, as we sat around and I listened to her in the park, watching seagulls fight over a fish in the water, she told me: she was coming to Korea as well!!

…. how?  why? whattttt?

Forget it: I wasn’t going to complain.  There are factors that lead up to her descision– but it’s not entirely my story to tell, so I’ll spare you.

I spent the rest of that afternoon with her, and in the evening, we were joined by friends at my house to just kill time and have some fun over home cooking.  It was, without a doubt, the best birthday I’d had in years.

I found myself energized this morning when I woke up.  I log on, change some passwords for the store’s server.  Fire off some emails. Negotiate a partnership for my store.  Write up some fine print that my new partners and I have to agree on.  Real business stuff, you know?

And then I went back to sleep.  Woke up now to write this.

There is an old Chinese saying about an old man who dreamed he was a butterfly.  It seemed to him so real– up until the moment when he woke up and was put in this world.  But then, he realized– what if he wasn’t even a man, and just a butterfly dreaming of being a man, until he’d wake up?

… in any case, it is thus my conclusion that as ‘real’ as we should ‘keep it’, we should always, always dream and wish.  Dreaming and wishing may not always affect the outcome, but until you get to what you want, all you have is to enjoy the journey, looking forward and imagining one step at a time.

My name is [Jinryu], but you can call me Awesome

(to give credit, the idea comes from http://www.xanga.com/BasementAbductor)

The file attached to the bottom of this post may be a bit loud and distorted, so i suggest you don’t start playing it in your headphones without first lowering the volume.

I’ve started playing guitar about 3 months ago, but had to take a break during my one month in Asia (because I didn’t have a guitar out there).  I never took any formal lessons, but I owe a lot to my friend Mark for the couple of times where he showed me some of the basics that I couldn’t for the life of my figure out from reading the internet alone (such as how to hold a guitar, beleive it or not).

The first 30 or so seconds of the audio file is me playing the original form of “Horse With No Name”.  After my first month of guitar, I was just barely able to play something that simple, because the fingers of my left hand were too weak to hold down chorst and my fingertips constantly felt like they were going to be fall off.  Horse With No Name has a total of 4 chords which are basically repeated nonstop throughout the original song. 

The audio files progresses into me just having some fun, improvising as I go.  Honestly I think my version is more interesting than the original 😉  (Yes, T, I am showing off.) Everything beyond the first 40 seconds is the level of playing I’m at now.

  • I’m playing on an accoustic guitar, the one I bought in the Philipines.
  • I am playing without using a pick.  Frankly, I’m really, REALLY bad at using a pick.  And can someone answer me this– do rockstars use the single pick to do their solos? Or do they somehow chuck the pick and switch to using fingers?
  • I’m not using a distortion pedal, all that extra noise is because my laptop’s microphone is really shitty (so it also tends to eat up a lot of the bass and spit it back out as “GRRRAR”).
  • I’m attempting to use hammer-ons, which I only learned about recently.
  • I am attempting to use pull-offs.
  • I managed to use an the occasional slide.
  • I can only imporivise on the two highest chords because those are the easiest ones to reach. I don’t really have much accuracy to improvise with the mid chords, and the bass chords just don’t record well with the lousy microphone.
  • I’m using a capo on the 2nd fret for the first half of the file, then I switch to neutral E (you can probably hear the capo being removed)
  • At some point, I drop the chopsticks from my bowl of noodles.
  • At some point, windows starts logging out and I have to relog in. I manage to cleverly do this in between the echo effect, punching in my password (you can hear windows logging on!)
  • Listening back to it, I think I’m a lot better at playing fast and sloppy than I am slow and distinctly (the second half of the file doesn’t sound nearly as interesting to me as the first half)
  • Aside from showing off, I’m putting this file here so I can check my progress in another 3 months or so.

On a side note, did you know that there is such thing as an Air Guitar Championship ??

 (I had no idea)
Do what you enjoy! Work hard… play harder.

Event Horizon

(The event horizon)

The more I look at my father, especially when he complains about his own father, the more I see how they’re alike.  And even more, I see how my father, now in his 50s, is becoming more like my grandfather every day.  Isn’t that ironic?

I’d like to think that I’m different– that because I see this happening, that I’ll be able to prevent myself from being my father.  Don’t get me wrong– I have a great deal of respect for my parents, and they are good people– it’s just that their ways are not mine.

And yet– what is it about ‘ways’?

Are we really capable of choosing things outside the ways of thinking we were raised within from the very begining?   Is it a box we can step out of, or is it a framework, like our very skeleton, that we bring with us no matter where we go?

I’m certain of it now– I am not my father.  Part of him will live on in me, as all parents do in their children.  Parents are the first experiences that children have, so it seems only natural. I will take the best and leave behind the rest, and some day, when I have children of my own, I will tell them what great people my parents were.  They set up my life so that I would never really really need anything.  They gave me opportunities.  It took me a long time to realize this of course, but as the saying goes, better late than never.

And so it is that after years of ‘education’ I’ve come to the end of my university studies. I’m a Bachelor of the Arts.  Stastically, that may mean that may suggest that I’m destined to live in a cardboard box, but I disagree– I’ve got bigger plans than that.

Korea, to me, represents an opportunity to find myself.  More than anything before me.  My travels to Asia during my month-long trek last month were interesting, and very educational, however it was still a family vacation– there was no real privacy or opportunity for isolation because even if I was in a foreign country, I was always with my family.

Korea will be different. I cannot say if it will be for better or worse with any certainty.  I can only know that I will do my best to make the most of my time there. 

For those friends of mine who are going through rough times, and there are many, I will lead by example and I will proove to you that you can get lost in a world unfamiliar and foreign and where I have no one and, not only will I survive, but I will surpass.  If my words sound pompous to you, if you feel that I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, you’re damn right– this whole experience will be a giant risk, one whose requirements I don’t even know. I proudly call myself a gamer– my life is about exploiting the rules of the system.  And this is the biggest game I’ll ever play, because, frankly, I don’t know the rules.  This is REAL LIFE.  This is as open a system as it gets.  Anything can happen.

Can you smell the fear?  Can you feel the heaviness in your body, the hesitation from the dangers?  Isn’t it amazing!   If I sound like I’m full of shit, all the better– the more you people disbelieve the sweeter it will be when I proove to you it can be done.

But the whole point of me saying all this isn’t to put you down.  It may be a side effect.  I’ve always tried encouraging people and for it, what have I gotten?  At times, all I get is people telling me that “[Jinryu], you just don’t get it do you?”. 

Let me tell you something.  I get it.  Everyone suffers. It’s you people who don’t get it.  You need to get it in your head and believe it that you deserve better.  And you need to get it into your head that if you’re going to get what you deserve, you’re going to have to work for it.  And you’re have to get it into your head that if you feel that you don’t have it, it’s because you don’t deserve it… YET. 

Which is why your only option to see if the world can treat you better is to move forward.  The insy winsie spider went up the water spout and got washed down … how many times?  Yet the song is still sung in nursuries today.  That spider is still going at that shit ever since my childhood, he is still doing it.

I’ve run out of ways to try and carry you people up.  If I say good things, people don’t beleive me.  They set me apart, as if depression or self loathing is an exclusive club.  If I say bad things, we get nowhere because then it’s just like sharing alcohol– everybody just gets drunk and senseless on the saturation.  So what’s left to say?  I don’t think there’s anything left at all to say– all that’s left is to act, and so on September 26th, I’m getting on a plane to become a better person.

A plane to Korea isn’t for everyone.  Understand that we all chose our own paths and that there are no wrong paths– there are only different experiences.

I know it’s not easy.  And nobody knows that better than you.   But you have no choice– you have to keep pushing, and I promise you, some day it will all be worth it.

… you all know me.  I write.  Sometimes I say things that sound harsh.  But you also know me– my heart is with all of you, I love all of you.

And I know that if you are reading this, you can guess if I’m taking about you or not.  There are several of you, and you know who you are. You can survive this, YOU CAN.  There’s not much, honestly, that I can do except to tell you that I know it’s within you.

Look in the mirror.  Accept first who you are.  That means be realistic– accept that you have faults.  On the other hand, accept that you have potential.

It is the strangest thing in the world but I think that most people are actually better at realizing their own faults than their own potential.

And what is potential?  Nobody knows!  Time multiplies that!  You never know where you could be 20 years from now, i certainly didn’t know I would be here!

So how do you realize that you have potential?  —- it’s strange, all you have to do is just say to yourself that “I’ll give it a shot”.  It’s the work in progress.

You can be dissapointed by the goals you set, but you will never be dissapointed if you learn to learn from the journey itself. Take a deep breath.  Don’t live in the past, don’t think of happy memories that you’ll never get back– dream instead of a better tomorrows, and all the possibilities infinite in the next minute.

Where is your turning point?  When will you find faith in yourself?

You can do it! We can do it!  But first, you have to make a choice to beleive in what you want, and then you have to decide to have the courage to go after it.  You will never be able to eliminate fear, or opression, nor depression– you will have to live with it, but it will add authenticity to your experience.

I’m rooting for all of us!


This was my favorite read for today: