Recent Blog Posts
On June 12, 14 years will have passed since my mother died.
On my birthday this year, April 16, another tragedy occurred in my current home, South Korea. The Sewol ferry accident that resulted in the loss of so many lives, many of them teenage children, would be a tough pill to swallow anywhere. In a country as small as this, it knocked the wind out of an entire nation.
I was asked if I wanted to write something about it. I said I would, but did not want to exploit someone’s pain for egotistical tears. For 14 years, I have been hesitant to write publicly about my mother’s death for fear of the same. But, a lot has changed since 2000. Fourteen Mother’s Days have come and gone. This Mother’s Day, hug your moms if you can.
We’ve all lost someone. No one’s someones are any less important.
A Belated Eulogy
In seven years I’ll be without you as long as I had you.
I cannot lift you from 14 years of dust that falls through my fingers.
What good would I be to everyone I’ve loved before and since
if I tried?
In 14 years cells dance, separate and die. Ideas die and are born. Things change.
I could not have told you where Korea was on a map if you asked in your moment of clarity one early June afternoon,
when I was wasting my life as yours wasted away.
I could not tell you what kimchi tasted like.
I could not tell you what a fresh coconut tasted like.
I could not say what it felt like to jump off the side of a mountain.
I could not even say what it was like to kiss someone I actually loved.
Not yet. Things change.
But I still ask if any good can come from eulogizing you in front of strangers and current loves? Is this too personal?
Loss is always personal for somebody.
No one’s someones are any less important.
I have tried to keep that perspective as long as I have lost you.
But, time has a way of dulling and diluting loss.
When I was 21, I ran to my room and curled in a ball on my bed.
After your funeral I slipped behind the shed and tried to cry.
The song was fresh, but I couldn’t find my voice.
Fourteen years later, that same song’s soft volume soared.
On April 16, my birthday, mothers, fathers,
sisters and brothers wailed over the edge
of the same sea I had tried to cross just weeks before.
Their song had a familiar taste to my own,
with voices that carried across a country.
Things change but the song. It always sounds the same.
Today, I see American mamas visit their kids in Korea. I’m not jealous.
But, I can’t not wonder if you would have, too.
So much I don’t know or neglected to ask when there was still time.
There always felt like there would always be time.
Yet, in seven years I’ll be without you as long as I had you.
If anything good could come from it, I would drink deep.
We all became a little closer.
Dad learned to be a little more open.
I learned to say “I love you” while there was still time.
Sometimes, on the other side of tragedy,
we find better versions of ourselves.
In 14 years cells dance, separate and die. Ideas die and are born. Things change.
Tonight I may dream of you, as I have less and less over 5,000 nights.
What once felt like a punch to the gut will be
a shoulder for my heavy head.
You’ll just be there. But, there is no “just” to your presence in dreams.
Fourteen years have taught me that.
It’s a song everyone can learn to sing.
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.
|Etude House will forever have the best packaging.|
- Hair treatment: a very nice conditioning formula
- Essence Hair cap: a shower cap blessed by unicorns
|Apply mask, wear cap, become happy.|
|Hashtag no makeup|
To read last year’s Mother’s Day post, click here.
It’s 2AM in the States, but I know she’ll be up. Mothers of twin toddlers never sleep, and my amazing sister is no exception. Their to-do lists are enormous and almost never completed. Their too brief periods of sleep are punctuated by baby noises or waking up unable to remember if that last load of laundry went into the dryer. I don’t know how she does it. And she doesn’t just do it. She excels at it. My sister is an awesome mom for a million different reasons. Here are a couple of them.
She recognizes that her children are different people with different personalities and needs. This may sound common sense to you, but remember that my little sister has twins, which means everything–teething, first words, first steps, and that manic 2pm temper tantrum–happens in twos. It’s gotta be super-tempting to handle them both the exact same way all the time, but she doesn’t. She manages to accept them both exactly as they are–two vastly different human beings who share the bonds of twin-ness and the incredible good fortune of having my sister as their mama.
She is patient. So patient. So incredibly patient. She keeps her cool even on days when K and W won’t stop jumping on the couch or pulling off their diapers or throwing yogurt covered raisins on the floor. Particularly now, as the terrible twos are beginning to rear their ugly heads, her patience with their colossal emotional meltdowns is awe-inspiring. When life gets absolutely crazy, my sister chooses most often to laugh instead of cry, to greet them with smiles and hugs instead of harsh words.
She’s also teaching K and W the importance of family. Somehow she manages to balance the intricate web of family ties formed by grandparents, in-laws, cousins, aunts, and uncles. After two years, they are Skypers of near-professional level, connecting to Kiki and Uncle Ric in Korea at least once a week, planting their sticky little baby lips exactly where the webcam is located in order to give us goodbye kisses. Her kids are learning early that family is a source of strength, comfort, and joy.
She exposes them to books, playgroups, aquariums, and the outdoors. She teaches them patience, kindness, generosity, humility. She encourages her little man to grow taller and her big girl to speak real words. She teaches them to get up and dust themselves off when they fall down. She has been continuously taking college courses online (and maintaining an honor roll average), so that her children will know that learning never stops. She is kind to them and to herself when days don’t go so well, when trips to the store end in all three of them screaming or when she makes dinner and K refuses to eat anything but carbs. She understands that this mom thing is a collection of tiny moments, a build up of day to day reassurances and small tokens of love. K and W know that, no matter what, their mom is a safe place, a refuge, a place of unfailing love and support and acceptance just they way they are.
Photo by Bonni Stephenson Photography
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Moms, Mother's Day, Twin Moms
In the last Buddha’s birthday spot that I went to this year, I bring you Haedong Younggunsa! One of my favourite temples and a beauty of a temple to shoot at during this decorative time. The sad part is that you will be fighting for “the spot” with a few hundred other photographers.
At any rate, I was happy to be there as I met up with the great photographer Macbeth Omega. Like most photographers who are waiting for the blue hour, we chatted for a bit and then went our separate ways to find the best location to shoot the temple. I decided to see what all the fuss was about as 99% of the other photographers gathered around the rocks to shoot the temple at a distance.
It was a great location but the constant shuffle of photographers started to irritate me. I had a few guys come dangerously close to knocking over my camera as they tried to shuffle around to get the best location. I settled on the most obvious of all locations simple because I was starting to get annoyed and that has a depreciative effect on my creativity.
At any rate, it was a nice night out and I got some shots that I like. I also want to leave you with this link from Chase Jarvis. Lately I have been feeling the bite of competition again and we all know what happened last time. My weakness is seeing how many likes other people get compared to me. Chase’s post sets my head straight every time and I have to share it here. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
The amazing gaze of the Unified Silla-era Yaksayore-bul statue at Silsangsa Temple in Jirisan National Park.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Silsangsa Temple was first constructed in 828 by the monk Jeunggak. Upon returning from Tang China, Jeunggak built this temple and it was one of nine special seon (zen) temples, better known as the Gusan Seonmun (The Nine Holy Seon Buddhist Mountains). The temple was built in its location to allow for Korea’s good spirit to take root and prosper and so it couldn’t be taken away to Japan. The temple faced a period of decline when it was destroyed during the Imjin War in 1597. The temple was reconstructed and restored in 1700. Silsangsa Temple was almost completely destroyed once more in 1882 as a result of a fire. Bad luck continued when it was partial destroyed, once more, during the Korean War.
Rather remarkably, the temple is surrounded on most sides by rice fields and beautiful views of Mt. Jirisan. You first enter the temple through the Cheonwangmun Gate. Inside are some of the happiest and non-threatening Heavenly Kings, you’ll find inside this type of gate. As you enter, and just to your right, is a three-tier pagoda made of roof tiles. Just behind it is the temple’s compact bell pavilion. Just to the right of these two structures is an elevated portion of land. Formally, a nine-story wooden pagoda once took up residence at Silsangsa Temple. Standing over twenty metres in height, it must have been something pretty special; unfortunately, all that remains now are some of the foundation stones.
In the back right corner of the temple complex looks to be a newer-looking temple hall. Inside this minimally painted hall is one of the most amazing iron statues of Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) in all of Korea. From the Unified Silla Period, the iron statue stands 2.69 metres in height. While it’s undergone a few repairs throughout the years, it stern determination still rests on its face with enlightenment in its eyes. Have a look and take your time, because there are very few others that compare in age and artistry to this statue at Silsangsa Temple.
Slightly to the left, and back towards the leveled pagoda, is the Myeongbu-jeon. Again, there is very little colour on the external walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is an older looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined on either side by standing statues of Domyeong-jonja (The Disciple of Jijang-bosal) and Mudok-gui Wang. Mudok-guk Wang, who is a king, was a guide for Jijang-bosal in his former life. Of note, he captured the key to hell in a box. As a result, he manages hell. He also gets rid of evil thoughts in people. This triad on the main altar is surrounded by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.
In the open courtyard stands a pair of pagodas and a uniquely designed stone lantern. Both three-story stone pagodas date back to the Unified Silla Period and stand 5.4 metres in height. Of note, both are in remarkably great shape for their age. Between these pagodas, and slightly behind them, is the round based stone lantern. With lotus designs and a set of portable stairs, you can light a candle in any one of the eight long openings around it’s centre.
Behind this collection of stone monuments is the understated main hall. Plain in colour, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sits in the centre of the main altar. He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). In the back right corner is a rather simple painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the left of the main hall is a compact shrine hall dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
The final hall you can visit is the Geukrak-jeon, which is to the far left of the main hall and beyond the monks’ dorms. You’ll need to cross a bridge to get to this hall. In fact, you’ll have to enter into a compound with monks’ dorms to your right. Inside the only vibrantly painted hall at Silsangsa Temple sits a solitary statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Hanging on the far right wall is an older guardian mural with an interesting depiction of Yongwang (The Dragon King). The Geukrak-jeon dates back to the 19th century, when its predecessor was burnt to the ground by Confucian scholars attempting to take the temple by force.
In front of the Geukrak-jeon compound is a stele dedicated to the memory of Jeunggak. While slightly the worse for wear, you can still see its smooth turtle head and face. And just to the left rear of this stele and the Geukrak-jeon compound is the intricate stupa that houses the earthly remains of monk Jeunggak.
Just as I was leaving, and because I didn’t see it when I first arrived, I took the time to take a look at the three stone spirit poles that date back to 1725. Uniquely, all three are male and wear caps. Instead of being fiercely designed to ward off evil spirits, these three poles seem more humourous than anything. Near the ticket booth to the temple, there remains only one with the other being washed away by water. The other two are just over the bridge as you make your way to the temple grounds.
Admission to the temple is 1,500 won, but there was no one at the booth when I visited, so it was free. I assume admission just depends on when you go.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, which is the closest city to Silsangsa Temple, you’ll need to take a bus to Inwol Bus Terminal (인월버스터미널). From Inwol Bus Terminal, take a local bus bound for Sannae (산내). Get off at the Silsangsa Temple stop. Perhaps even ask your bus driver if they’re going to Silsangsa Temple just to be sure.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While Silsangsa Temple is a temple with a more glorious past than its present, it still has some pretty unique highlights.The iron statue of Yaksayore-bul is one of the best examples of artistry from the Unified Silla Period. Also, the rarely seen stone spirit poles are humourous in design. Finally, the remnants of the temples past glory found in the foundation stones of an ancient pagoda, the near perfectly preserved pagodas and stone lantern, as well as the stupa and stele dedicated to Jeunggak are just some of the stone features to the strangely located Silsangsa Temple.
The Cheonwangmun Gate that first greets you at Silsangsa Temple.
One of the rather jovial, and not so intimidating, Heavenly Kings.
The amazing view from the Cheonwangmun Gate at neighbouring Mt. Jirisan.
The temple’s bell pavilion and roof tile pagoda.
A view across the leveled wooden pagoda at the foundation stones and Mt. Jirisan off in the distance.
The newly built hall that houses the amazing Yaksayore-bul.
A first look at the iron Buddha that dates back to the Unified Silla Period.
A better look at its serene, yet stern, expression.
The intricacies of design: Look at the feet curled up in the lotus position.
The plainly painted Myeongbu-jeon with the twin pagodas to the right.
The triad of statues inside the Myeongbu-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.
A better look at the well preserved stone pagodas from the Unified Silla Period.
And the matching stone lantern with the main hall in the background.
A look inside the main hall with a monk conducting morning prayer.
The Chilseong-gak to the left of the main hall.
The painting of Chilseong inside the shrine hall sporting its own name.
The well-worn stele dedicated to Jeunggak.
The stupa dedicated to the founding monk with the Geukrak-jeon framing it.
The statue of Amita-bul inside the Geukrak-jeon.
One of the bulbous nosed spirit poles at the entrance of the temple.
Yet another. This one has a pretty good set of bulging eyes.
And finally, across the river lies this tall hatted spirit pole.
Because I live about as far from Seoul as you can be in Korea, I was not able to appear in person in the studio, which was a pity, but I gave some points in a short telephone interview. You can listen to the whole program by searching here (on Wednesday May 7th) and I found the perspective of the two university professors in the studio quite interesting.
I won't go into the whole discussion, for this post I will only focus on one aspect of the debate. During the discussion on the radio, both myself and one of the professors in the studio came up with an interesting point about getting into good habits regarding safety.
I actually think Koreans are being a bit hard on themselves and the other professor in the discussion made some quite scathing comments about Koreans being uncivilised, uncaring, even describing them as animals for such things as not forming orderly queues. Many articles have also been written in the Korean media about how they as a society care too much about money and getting things done quickly and don't care about people enough. Perhaps there is some truth to this, it's possible the country as a whole has become too obsessed with success and economic development and it was certainly a factor in the poor safety practices at my wife's hospital when she worked in Korea. But I think a general lack of safety awareness and a poor understanding of risk are the greater culprits.
The situation on the roads is a perfect example of this. In my experience, lots of people cross the road without looking both ways, sometimes not even looking at all or with their heads buried in their smart phones. Inside cars, I have had the experience of siting in the back of a car with a Korean mother driving with her son of 12 years old in the passenger seat and who was wearing no seat belt and have friends who recall similar experiences. I also get regular lifts to play squash with a man who has a young daughter (4 years old) who sits with no seat belt on in the back seat while he drives at ridiculous speeds, weaving in and out of traffic, while texting and calling people on his phone. I shut my eyes and pray for the best.
I should say something in these circumstances, and I would in my own country in the same situations (I doubt whether it would ever happen though), but if I did (especially in my clumsy Korean) I would be worried that it would come across as me insinuating that they don't care for their children or that they are bad parents. Just like the person who tells the mother of a screaming baby on a long-haul flight to keep him/her quiet, you are never the good guy in such situations. Perhaps I should say something anyway, it might save their lives one day.
Yet, from what I know of this mother and of my friend who I play squash with, they would do anything for their children. I am sure they would throw themselves in front of a bus or run into a burning building to save them. I see them dote on them and I simply can't believe that they don't care enough. And the people with their heads in their smart phones as they cross the road; what monetary gain or time-saving are they getting out of doing it? And don't they care about their own lives?
It leads me to think that probably the main issue here is ignorance of risk and safety and that this state of being leads easily into ignoring it for profit and time saving. I think this is cultural as I see it everywhere. People's everyday habits and actions are just not attuned to common dangers. Most of these good habitual practices can be taught and drummed into people of a very young age and it can start as soon as children can walk and talk, pick up chopsticks or a knife and fork, or learn about respecting their elders in speech.
Crossing the road is a classic example of this. Much of the time, I can find myself walking around in something of a day dream, my senses aren't heightened to danger all the time, even when I am crossing the road (although I do make more of a conscious effort in Korea). But by force of habit, when I hit the edge of a pavement, I look both ways. The funny thing is that it took about a year of living in Korea to look the correct way at the correct time when crossing the road, because in England the traffic comes from the opposite direction. I found myself being more careful because my brain was so confused. You'd think it would be simple, just look the opposite way when you should, but so ingrained the behaviour was, it took almost a year of crossing streets day in day out to get over it.
Whilst I think England has much better habits when it comes to safety, I have increasingly felt that the country has gone too far in its concern for it. Masses of red tape need to be dealt with even relating to the most minor risks imaginable. Health and safety has become something that people really detest and it causes a significant reduction in civil liberties and personal responsibility due to the laws and other obstacles you have to overcome to do almost anything at all. It also opens people up for being liable for other's injuries and too many people seek compensation when they don't deserve it. One of the things I enjoy about Korea is that I feel freer living here. I hope it is not inevitable that, in time, improving health and safety will turn into an unhealthy obsession with it, like in England. Why oh why can we not meet in the middle between the two cultures, on this and many other issues?
To celebrate Korean Parents’ Day (May 8th) and American Mothers’ Day (May 11th) this year, I made this from video I had taken with my mom during a trip to Hong Kong last year. Full of inside jokes and fun memories, it probably isn’t entertaining to anyone but us, but I thought I’d share it anyway.
About the girl
Thank you so much for visiting and reading.
This week I answer three questions that came to me through Twitter. Learn about the mysterious origins of Keykat, find out what I think about kimchi, and learn about a couple of important Korean name endings, all in this week's brand new episode!
You can check the book out here, or find it directly through Amazon and most online retailers.
FOLLOW ME HERE:
SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL:
by Das Messer
My older brother and I had a very strange relationship. We’d grown up in different homes, and the fact that mine was primarily founded on stiff-upper-lip principles seemed to account for our vastly different approaches to life. Perhaps I mistakenly attribute our initial chasm of temperaments to this, but it in retrospect it really does seem to me that he was the first who taught me to laugh. I was always very sentimental and severe in my thirst for truth; while he sought passion and wild abandon in every waking moment, probably leading to his eventual (and failed) rehabilitation. We did have some things in common at first: we both rollicked in love, wrestled with personal strength, worked hard for emotional independence, and clawed ferociously at/through life; but all through very different channels and on completely different terms.
When he went to rehab we’d write long letters to each other every week: I’d lament my frustrated attempts at figuring out the meaning of life while he’d recount tales of making potato beer in toilets, and the other frivolous antics of pubescent boys biding their time at the infamously militant rehabilitation center in the middle of the Karoo desert.
Dead set on saving his soul, I decided that he needed an amulet from his 14 year old sister to remind him to keep fighting. When he was released from rehab I handed him his gift, together with my ever cherished, earnestly inscribed copy of The Prophet and a desperate plea of love in my eyes. He returned the gesture by cooking dinner, spiking it with prime chronic, quietly giggling in anticipation of the impending fallout.
We’d gone out clubbing a few weekends later out in the white-trashiest corner of Jo’Burg, and after three shots of tequila he spewed projectile vomit across the bar onto some roid-monkey and his vapid girlfriend. I swiftly hopped between them in with the hopes of appealing with calm and serious reason to whatever rational sensibilities the Plank might have had, while my brother seized in fits of hysterical laughter behind me.
Our religious affiliations never really overlapped, by the time he was a reborn Christian I’d given up on faith altogether. This didn’t stop me from respecting the family’s evangelical inclinations, but he had no shame in donning a trucker cap which read ‘Jesus is my homeboy’ to Easter lunch at our grandfathers’ house. They gasped, he chuckled, I slunk away.
A few months down the line I found myself reeling from some or other crisis, and in my exhaustion I wanted to watch a film that would soothe my frazzled Existenz. At the video store he knocked Waking Life clean out of my hand and with sparkling eyes held up the latest Beavis and Butthead video.
We both loved music, but argued endlessly about appropriate soundtracks for any given day. Almost always he’d want some god awful funky-house, while I almost always begged for something rich with grungy angst. We found very few compromises in this arena but most of them have stuck with me: Anti-Flag, Nirvana (very few agreements there), Outkast, Meat Puppets, Wu-Tang, Violent Femmes, Ween, Butthole Surfers and Max Normal TV. Through this, I eventually figured out what he’d been trying to tell me all along: Not to take myself so seriously and to appreciate that moments of joy and love and pleasure are meant to be appreciated just for what they are sometimes.
For years after he died I’d relish in delicious misery through nostalgic music trips, spending nights on end attempting to locate meaning and answers in the limited music we shared, drunkenly scouring Youtube for the perfect tribute song for his birthday or the anniversary of his death.
Of course, life for the rest of us does continue. We live on, relentlessly gagging on tensions of tragicomedy. I haven’t changed much, I still coil in the face of existential confusion, but from time to time I’m reminded of his point: there seems to be a gold-mine of reprieve buried under the immediate surface of levity, and that that is pertinent – if not essential – to creating meaning. Occasionally I remember to lance swelling wounds of over-thought, relieve the urgency of analysis, drop my desperation for sincerity; and just indulge in decadent trifles of laughter and simple joy where they can be found.
He’d have probably ridiculed me for using such highfalutin vernacular to say all of that, and he might have argued about the irony of it – but fuck it, what’s he gonna do about it now?