Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Birthday Madness
Alright so what's a 26th birthday weekend without catching a World's soccer match second-row, cheesy dakgalbi (the best kind), an AM Big Buddha-san hike, pancakes in the morning, 2 hootenanai wake-ups, and pulling a full nelson submission on a frothing mad, rent-raising korean landlady?
During class on monday I left the room to check the bathroom for a kid who'd been gone for suspiciously long. I came back into the school foyer to see my boss being dragged out of her office from her sweet pay-cheque-signing-50-year-old-hair by this screaming monster of an ajumma. No kidding. She was at least 3 meters tall, and had fangs. I pulled the lady off and she went beserk. Absolutely wild. Something about being chicken-winged straight into the water cooler by a skinny white teacher guy will do that I suppose. But even I wouldn't try to bite the guy's thumb off. I think every student in the building had their ears pressed to the doors to hear what this woman was screaming about.
5 minutes later, I'm back in the classroom, red-faced, scratched and disheveled. Basically, the look I'm going for. "Who's next!!??" In another classroom, a teacher asks if the woman had been saying some really bad words. The kid who speaks about 27 english words stands up and says "yeah, like 3000."
There's a Korean saying "the law is far but the fist is near" Absolute idiocy when the police show up, and arrange a friendly meeting between my boss and Count Dracula's Korean mistress. The entire police force must have been raised on dubbed-over Full House re-runs, I figure. Lets hope the Korean public never, ever get guns. Her big problem - something to do with extending a teacher's lease on his apartment, or something to that tune. Hey, I'm 26. It's about time I got in a fight.

Alright, now brace yourself, you are about to join the priviledged few who have witnessed this mystic annual ritual performed by my brother Dan and my new sister Margie. (no, not that ritual)

- The Birthday Dance -
This seems to be a fairly new family tradition (as I was not aware of its existence until 2am Saturday morning), but one I'm sure will pass the test of time and become yet another honoured passage marker within the inner sanctum and beyond. If you are thinking to yourself, "but Les' birthday was not until monday," you are correct. Dan had jumped the gun on the 26th, and so this event actually happened twice for me. It was like winning the lottery, but instead of winning money, I got an over-the-phone-hootenanai. Twice. Thanks for this, Dan and Margie!

While Korea (red) lost to Uruguay (bum-touching) 2-0, the game was awesome to be at. The stadium's architecture itself, designed to host Korea's world cup in 2002, is an inspiring testament to Korean ingenuity. While this was simply a "friendly match," the approaching-capacity crowd was very involved. This sport, like so many others, is infinitely more entertaining to witness live than to watch from a television set. Leave North America and you will find, suddenly, that soccer is a Big Deal. Many, many thanks to Nicole and co. for arranging this suprise for me.

On a tranquil note, Bulam-san (Big Buddha) peak, left and back. Another nice way to celebrate a new day, springtime, and the beginning of my 26th year.

Coming up this weekend, (weather, and sleeping bag permitting): Mountain Shamanism, and Seoninbong multipitch climbing/camping. Not weather-permitting: Games night alla Shannon.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

House of Pain - Redux - by Brother Dan (B.Sc. Kin, CFC, RMT, politically-correct-rapper-extraordinaire)

Clearly, my brother is a unique individual, and is more productive in his downtime than I will ever be. This is awesome, and scary.

"I intend to strike the union of your bilateral thigh musculature to your pelvic girdle in a manner to enable the initiation of a rally in racquet sports, similar to the way in which one of the all-time greatest tennis stars, Jonathan MacEnroe, would have performed. Likewise, if your female companion approaches me in a competitive manner, I will strike said female with the dorsum surface of my hand, as if she were a common street-worker in the sex trade.

Groups of consonant and vowel sounds grouped together to imply meaning are coded and directed towards your matriarchal family member, with the intention to inform her that I have come to disseminate all of my explosive devices.

I have the ability to produce more numerous rhyming couplets and quartets than the 151 canonical and non-canonical chapters of prayers derived from ancient Greek and Hebrew texts, now commonly found in the King James Version of the Good News Bible under the Book of Psalms. But just as in the Parable of the Lost Son described in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 15 verse 11-32), I too have returned to my land of origin.

Any individual who attempts to walk towards my personal space in a competitive manner will receive thermal injuries to their superficial tissues. This is mainly due to the fact that I can produce words and tune in time and rhythm that is appealing to the ears, and you unfortunately do not possess this skill. When you attempt to enter into the mêlée of conflict, ensure that you have on your persons a double-barreled smoothbore shoulder firearm that is typically used to scatter pellet-like “shots” over short range. However if you choose this course of action, any self-determining individual would consider you somewhat of a professional jester or a dolt; for when I engage in private quarrels to settle conflict, the altercation will cease only when my opponent has settled down for the long dirt nap. If you take an extra step towards my general direction and infiltrate my personal space, the next inspiration of ambient air will be your last, thus leaving your body tissues in a state of hypoxia.

I possess the ability to defeat you in a competitive mano-a-mano confrontation, so draw closer and experience first hand the pain which I will dole out to your physical being in as much quantity as you can personally handle. When I attack, however, expect that my offensive maneuvers are delivered with the intention of depriving you of your life…"
- D.C.T.

"I'll serve your ass like John MacEnroe - If your girl steps up, I'm smacking the ho. Word to your moms I came to drop bombs I got more rhymes than the bible's got psalms - And just like the Prodigal Son I've returned Anyone stepping to me you'll get burned - Cause I got lyrics and you ain't got none - So if you come to battle bring a shotgun - But if you do you're a fool, cause I duel to the death -Try and step to me you'll take your last breath I gots the skill, come get your fill - Cause when I shoot ta give, I shoot to kill." -H.O.P.
Geumgangsan, North Korea - March 9-11

I've been scratching my head for the past week, wondering how to adequately describe this place with my ponderous vernacular and limited grammatical skill. Instead, I've decided, finally, to let my pictures do the talking. (Well most of the talking)

Over two days our group hiked among some of the most stunning scenery I've ever seen. Tummy trouble aside, this place severely complicated my pre-conceived notions of an inhospitable, dreary and dismal Hinterland. I expect this to be the most beautiful place I'll find on the Korean peninsula. These are the diamond mountains.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This picture is contraband. Though for all my sweat through North Korean customs, I managed a sneaky picture of a genuine North Korean village.

A mural some 15 feet high showing (Dear) Kim Jong-Il, and (Great) Kim Il-Sung, somewhere on Mars by the looks of things. Geoff and Brent - eat your hearts out. I must admit that this picture was not taken by my hand. You must hand the North Korean agent your camera so that he might ensure that no part of the leaders has been cropped, which would be showing the most callous disrespect.

That's much better. Don't mess with freedom of speech.

Shingyesa Temple - organized religion has been abolished in the North. This temple is somehow allowed, rebuilt very recently by a South Korean monk. This man, and many, many northerners, anxiously await reunification.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"The Aquariums of Pyongyang - Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag" by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot

I had hoped to gain some perspective concerning the Democratic People's Republic of Korea before heading there myself. I was to spend one night in the 4-star, South Korean owned Oekumgang Hotel. Kang Chol-Hwan was sentenced to 10 years in the Yodok work camp when he was 8 years old. I climbed a mountain to take some nice pictures, Mr. Kang climbed mountains to gather heavy logs and to bury his dead friends.

The book illuminates the North Korean government's absolute failure to recognize any political or civil rights for its people. It shows a real life enactment of the dark future created in Orwell's 1984. There are the privileged upper party members, the lower party, and the masses. Brainwashing is considered daily hygiene. Dissent, demonstration, logical thought, freedom of speech and information, or anything that resembles these in the slightest are quickly crushed - wiped from the memory of ever happening at all. History is re-written and education censored to enshrine the leader as savior, giver, enlightened-guide.

Double-think, the act of subscribing to purely contrary dogma simultaneously, is actively encouraged so as to ensure the control of an insanely hypocritical dictator. The only currency accepted in the tourist enclosure we stayed at - the US dollar. Don't think, its too difficult and dangerous.

A country of mystery and contradiction. This is Pyongyang at rush hour. Strikingly beautiful with urban forests and empty roadways. A triumphal arch celebrating the genius of the Kims.

Please don't assume that these pictures are mine. They are not. Soldiers were at every corner to make sure we couldn't take home a picture of something accurately North Korean. I wonder how they feel about google earth?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I figure I'd distract the eye with another shot of Insubong under bluebird March skies, before launching into this tirade I've felt smouldering inside since walking home tonight.

I was harried by two teams of pedestrian evangelists on my way to the bouldering gym. No more than half a street apart from each other. In my haste to escape the first team, I found myself halfway into a busy interesection before being pulled back, realizing too late that it wasn't safe (or legal) to cross yet and that I was about to become one with the tires of oncoming traffic. After waiting an eternity for the walk light, I safely made it across only to be confronted by a second group, advocating that God is in fact a female, and I've been a bad, bad man for not observing Passover. To provide a bit more background in respect to my feelings towards speaking about God with perfect strangers, I refuse to answer my door before heading to work as nearly thrice a week its Jehovah Witnesses ready to wish me good morning. Is sleeping-in against the rules as well?

I'm far from ready to toss God out with the bath water of organized religion, but I'm not going to afford these folks another minute to wash me with arguments for the true chromosomal combination of the creator. I simply don't care. God just might be trans-gendered. What about that? Shouldn't matter one bit.

The celestial intersection behind me, I was nearly at the subway when a man holding a fully spread newspaper in front of his face walked straight into me as he was heading down the stairs. I nearly ingested the business section. Clearly, I should have turned and hustled back down the stairs to let this metrocrat pass before I walked back up. This kind of on-the-spot insight must come only after more than 6 months in Seoul. I'm 3 days past 5.

Bouldering was great. Finally made good on my promise to the manager to purchase a membership. Unfortunately, that means a lot more hassles outside the Church on the way. Damn, just thought of that now.

One more before I'm through. Heading back, I approached an obviously loaded Korean woman in trackpants, and some friends helping her to walk straight. She tossed an orange juice carton onto the asphalt alleyway, and as I treated her to the pick-that-up-you-irresponsible-littering-idiot stare, she kicked the carton and covered me with the half litre of pulpy goodness that was left inside. Ten minutes later, it felt absolutely exquisite to lock my apartment door behind me for the night.
Tomorrow night I'll sleep on a bus enroute to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. But don't be confused. This is actually what North Korea calls itself. Much more on the absurdity of the sole remaining Stalinist regime to come. At this point, I feel it's safe to publish that much without jeopardizing my safety or my weekend trip, though I'll leave it at that.