It’s been a rainy week here in Superior WI and I’ve been awaiting a rainbow. At random times throughout the past few days the sun would peek through the rain clouds and I would peek through the many windows in my apartment, hoping to spy the telltale colors.
With my departure a mere few days away I was feeling a bit of anxiety this evening about travel, life, etc. I decided to go for a walk to the library and supermarket (to seek out a certain sweet requested by my friend in Munich) and introspect. On the way back from the supermarket as I criss-crossed through the parking lots and skipped across the road, the rainbow above my head caught my eyes. It’s amazing how a simple, mundane natural occurrence can have such a profound effect on the human spirit. When my sister and I were children and spotted a rainbow sometimes our father would ask if we wanted to go out and find the pot of gold. Of course we always replied with enthusiasm as we piled into the cab of his work truck and headed off on the rainbow trail to find our treasure. The three of us would talk about what we would do with all of the gold as we followed the rainbow through the countryside in that old pickup, until it disappeared into the sky as mysteriously as it came.
Complicated circumstances and strained relationships have since eliminated any contact with my father for over four years. This is for the best. While I have had the tendency to distance myself from most of my biological family for some reason or another, there remains a sort of fascination with my genealogical roots. I look towards my trip through Ireland and Germany as a sort of pilgrimage to my heritage. Not only that, but the guilt of my American identity somehow justifies my need to return to my “motherlands”. In some odd way I feel that the genocide committed in the Americas against the natives here can only be righted if we return to the lands from which we came. While I know that this is entirely unrealistic and absurd I cannot let go of the notion…
The much-awaited rainbow swooped above my head in an arch of timeless wonder as I wandered back to my humble abode. I observed it fade in and out of existence and finally completely dissipate just as I arrived at my own sweet doorstep. It’s appearance served not only as an epic sign of synchronicity and beauty in the vast scheme of my little existence, slowing me down to the present moment and the revelation of harmony in the fleeting things if life; but as a sort of metaphor for expression. My own choice of expression may seem mundane and pointless in the bigger picture, but I cannot help myself, writing and dreaming are a natural occurrence that result fluidly simply from my being. Like a rainbow, which so nonchalantly, pointlessly materializes, our actions flow from us as temporary expressions of necessary causes on a much deeper level.
Perhaps I was the only one who saw that rainbow. Most likely not. But what is important is how deeply one experiences its presence; the same lesson applies when experiencing the phenomena of another land….
When I was a kid my grandpa would sing that old Canned Heat song every time we got in the car, regardless of how long the trip was really going to be. It always kind of amused me and even today I often think of him singing that song whenever I embark on some sort of journey.
I’m picking this blog up again for another adventure on an ozone-depleting jetliner (Someday I’ll figure out how to catch a ride on a trans-atlantic cargo ship so that I don’t have to feel so guilty about wasting all of that fuel.)
I’m going to Bosnia this time. That’s right. Go ahead and laugh. It is actually pretty amusing though, given the fact that I have yet to keep the promise I made to you (and the random Harvard graduate student I met on the plane from Tokyo who had lived in Japan for 10years+ and still hadn’t learned the language…) about going to Canada this year. I always dreamed of visiting tropical islands and classic destinations like the UK, central Europe, India and South America. Instead I have ended up travelling to obscure destinations of political unrest and uneventful climates. South Korea, Bosnia, what’s next, Kyrgyzstan? Perhaps. I don’t believe anymore that one must see what everyone else has seen before being able to understand the obscure or esoteric.
On this trip I have, however, managed to integrate some more popular destinations. I’ll be flying to Dublin for several days and then to Munich for a week where I will galavant with high school pals. Somehow I will wander down to Sarajevo from there, reading, writing and spending university money along the way. I will spend a month in Bosnia-Herzegovina studying with several other American students and history and political sciences professors from UWS. I’m also bringing a fancy video camera from the video-production department and plan to shoot enough footage to compose a documentary.
I’m leaving in a few days here, but am just sick as a dog today. I’ve finished almost all of my finals, etc, but feel so entirely shitty that it’s hard to be excited. But it’s nice to force myself to relax, all the same. Right now I am scoping out hostels in touristy Dublin and trying to plan an escapade with a UWS friend in Munich… I’m not looking forward to that lame tourist feeling and am not afraid to pretend that I am Canadian. Everyone in Korea always thought I was Russian, so I think I’ve got some sort of exotic (or just plain strange) look that somehow gives me an edge in the foreign context. Being American is always the most embarrassing when abroad. Sinclair Lewis asked, “Why is it that traveling Americans are always so dreadful?” and also pointed out “Do you think it’s so snobbish, to want to see something besides one’s fellow citizens abroad?”. Needless to say, I am looking forward to another solo-trip….
it’s 9am here, my last day. the kids practiced their final presentation yesterday and it was pretty hilarious. i wonder what their parents will think of it all, the fact that its all in english and there is no interpreter should add to the amusement.
Ha-na and Pil-jin came from Seoul to visit me here last night. that was pretty sweet of them. my Apa and Opa asked the dabong-sunnim (kunsunnim is away on business or something…) if we could go out for a “farewell party” last night, but he wouldn’t allow it so we had to enjoy ourselves at the temple. the girls ordered dopoki, odang, hota and teegim (just for fun. i always get teased for the semblence of my name to this tasty fried dish.). it was a pleasant evening. the dabong-sunnim asked me if there was anything that i really wanted to have (foodwise) before i left the country. as i thought about it i realized that i am actually completely content with the turnout of this exciting trip.
i got the kid’s emails yesterday. i’m going to miss them a lot, and something tells me it’s mutual….
my warm bed awaits my return in northern wisco. my cats are probably ten times bigger than they were when i left, considering all of the venison they’ve been fed. my upcoming research design class is waiting to kick my ass and plans for a maymester trip to Bosnia to study war and peace need to be laid. this has been a challenging and exciting adventure back to the only other country i have been to outside the US (i formally make a pledge to you all that i will go to canada this year…)
i have three minutes to type up a post at the computer that i am using at the cheongnaynee train station. the weekend in Seoul was totally amazing and it was so great to see so many of my old friends and my roommates again, but the weather here was harsh. we walked around Insadong for a while and visited the Jogyesa temple. glorious. its a beautiful day and Xiao and i are on our way back to the temple. the big city is almost too much for me now that i have something to really contrast it to.
lost in Cheongnyangee and playing with my cellphone – like any korean would. (exempting the ‘being lost’ part…)
waking up early this morning and looking out at the incredible mountain range that surrounds the campus, its idiosyncratic peaks and ridges, the colors of each range that fade out into the distance – I was floored both by the immensity of Korean history and by the realization that I really am on the other side of the world and that it was relatively easy to get here. riding on the plane, too, I contemplated this and reveled in thoughts of future travel. the world is at our fingertips and all we need to do is reach out –
its 7am here in wonju and I can’t sleep. somehow I thought I was going to get the better of jetlag – subverting it with my newfound travel vigor. but no, 9 time zones and a fifteen hour difference later my confused and aching body lays testament to the journey…
korea is still absolutely and completely amazing. I can’t believe that I even contemplated not returning. JK and I have had a splendid time together these past few days. yesterday we went to a traditional hanji (Korean papermaking art) place at the base of chiaksan mountains. we made some traditional coasters in a cold room upstairs where the heater only comforted my legs. I also had the chance to visit with Eun-ju on Friday, we went out to eat at a Japanese bar downtown and then to my favorite jimjilbang; and last night with Sung-gyu and Jin-hyung, we had pajan and maccoli in Maeiji-ri and talked about their upcoming army service and prospects of girlfriends.
being back in wonju has been really weird because I guess I had more or less resigned myself to believe that I may never see these places again – chiak mountains, downtown wonju, the inter-spa public bathhouse, maiji-ri, and the Yonsei campus – it has been such a treat to be back and remember that I actually did experience this as life, that this place is a reality, not a dream…
today we are departing to the temple where I will embark on my mission to propagate the English language to the adorable middle school children in the Young-ju/Pong-gi area. we have been staying at a guesthouse at Yonsei these few days because JK says her house is too small, which is pretty much true. her niece arrived here last night and she will come with us to the temple this afternoon, then stay overnight with me so that we can watch the sun rise in the morning from the temple.
my internet access has been sparce at best. at Kum-gun san (my temple) I will have more regular access but it will likely still be quite limited.
fancy tea with JK in Insadong –
the morning view from the guesthouse –
making Hanji with JK near Chiaksan mountains –
train ride to Youngju –
(unless i stumble into internet access before then…)
i submitted my last paper an hour ago and took my philosophy test this afternoon, so the semester is officially over. in a way i am relieved because my body has been screaming “WTF?!! ITS SUMMER NOW!” and summer indeed ’tis. its raining profusely these days, on and off, and then the heat hits and its ridiculously humid. this is my last night with the roommates, tomorrow i am going to take the train in the morning to Youngju and stay at the temple. the sunnims and everyone else at the temple, particularily kuh-sunnim, have been pressuring me to come back in the wintertime to teach english to gradeschoolers for a few weeks. as annoying as it may be, and as lacking as i am in confidence of my korean skills, i think i might say yes. it would just be fabulous to come back and visit my friends and have another huge adventure. (but i keep dreaming about learning spanish and going to Guatemala instead… am i crazy?) i miss my camera a little. i think i will really be missing it at the DMZ.
i can’t even believe it, but my determined study habits payed off and i completely aced my korean tests. it was beautiful. but now its tuesday night and i am finishing up some essays that are due tomorrow, and getting ready for my philosophy test, and the five day trip that will ensue on thursday morning. i am a little nervous about travelling all over on my own – but i did it this weekend in Gyungju, so i think i will be alright. i will be sure to pack my cell phone and spare battery. i am most nervous about the subway in Seoul, funny enough, even though the toughest part of my trip should be travelling to the temple in Youngju and then from there to Seoul friday night, then to the center of Seoul, where i need to find someplace to sleep, and in the morning i will start my DMZ tour. then i will galavant around Seoul for a few days with friends and roommates, seeing a few cool things like the national history museum (and if i am really lucky, a fantastic picasso show that just came to SK…) next tuesday i am back here, packed, and ready to go early thursday morning. and thats that. it was so fast, i am so entirely stunned.
the Korea vs Togo world cup game starts in a few minutes, screams can be heard throughout campus and everyone was wearing their red shirts today. the whole country is bedecked in national pride – everyone from grannies to little babies, and even some small animals, are sporting their nationalism.
i am feeling really forlorn. i’ve only got one real day left on campus before i leave for my little trip, then come back to the quiet campus before going home. i dont know how to say goodbye to all of the friends i have made, i have been so lucky, and this has been such an amazing experience. i am definately coming back. but even then, i am not going to know the same people or lead the same life. the end never felt so near, so real, or so empty….
at the same time, its going to be fantastically surprising and strange and wonderful to be home.
my heart aches.