Apr 28, 2006

The "Sleep Revolution"

Babs and Kimo in the garden, Sunday morning, April 23, 2006.

Sunday marked the beginning of a much more balanced week than the past month or so has been. The fact that we finally had a week without “major” events helped, but it was also the result of some deliberate decisions we made.

Sunday morning, Barbara was up early as usual and out in her garden. The goal was to replant the red ginger plants she got from our friends Rex and Clarie. She hadn’t planted them deep enough, and they were too close to the fence. She spent about an hour of back-breaking labor trying to dig a deep enough hole in the rocky soil before she came and roused me out of bed to help her. I took a few turns at the shovel before declaring we needed a pick. That’s when our pastor who lives in the apartment next to ours arrived on the scene to save the day. He showed us, how by running the hose over the ground for a few minutes, the soil magically softened and the stones loosened. We were amazed! We showed him the claw Babs inherited from her grandma. He was amazed! He’d never seen such a thing before. Together we dug the other holes in about 10 minutes

Here’s Babs posing with her new holes.

While Babs continued to work in the garden, I did our laundry and then drove out to the north end of the island to meet my friend Vince to discuss our upcoming 5K race that we’re holding as a fundraiser for REAL Christian Theater. It was a beautiful day, gorgeous blue skies, puffy white clouds, the flame trees just coming into bloom, the water along Beach Road as blue as God’s swimming pool. I met Vince at a beach where she and some friends were having a small barbeque, and we hashed out our plans for the run.

After that I drove up to our favorite restaurant in the WHOLE WORLD, Coffee Care to get something to eat. I ended up having brunch with our friends Rod and Jean. They’re an older couple that we met when we were assigned to look after them during the last Marriage Encounter Weekend.

In the afternoon we went to our favorite Thai restaurant, (see picture above) the one next door to the school. We got a traditional low Thai table on a raised dais next to the window, where you sit on pillows on the floor instead of chairs. With the sun streaming in through the windows, the soft whine of a Thai vocalist in the background, the restaurant almost empty except for us, we nursed our Thai teas and spent several hours setting our budget. We set our budget for the next couple of months (though that has been since wrecked since what with the exorbitant costs of traveling this summer). We also talked a lot about our daily schedule and I made a couple of decisions. First I decided that I would limit myself to only one night "out" during the week. My Monday theater rehearsal covered that. After that I simply wouldn't allow myself to go to "meetings" or plan "events" during the evening.

Second I decided that at least 3 out of five days of the week I would aim to be in bed by 9 P.M. and asleep by 10. And perhaps the most crucial decision of all, I decided that Sunday needed to be one of those three nights (the others being Tuesday, Weds, and sometimes Thurs). Now normally I stay up and watch "Grey's Anatomy" but this time we recorded it and instead we watched "Match Point" on DVD and by 9:30 we were in bed.

Monday was magical! I felt alive, awake! All because I got sleep, and because I started the week off on a good night's sleep. The rest of the week was like having a brand new life.

I’m still amazed at how simply it’s all come together. I’d been thinking for awhile, daydreaming, really about how I wished my life could be. I’m not talking about “big dreams”here, I’m talking about what it would take to have a normal day with the life I currently have now. I wanted to be able to get up at six and have my quiet time of journaling, Bible reading, and prayer (prayer is still hard for me. . .of the get on my knees and focus type. I always get sleepy and I can never seem to organize my thoughts. . .but still). I wanted to eat breakfast at HOME instead of hastily wolfing it down at my desk as the school day is starting. I wanted to get to school at seven and take care of my photocopying and whatnot before staff worship at 7:15. I wanted to not have ANYTHING scheduled between 7:30 and 8 when the school day begins so I could putter around my desk, maybe straighten the room or read the paper and begin the day relaxed rather than rushed. I wanted to start and end my classes on time. I already explained how I dreamed of my evenings going in yesterday’s entry. And on Sunday, I just woke up and realized that there was no reason why my life couldn’t be that way.

So far just about all the elements are in place. I haven’t gotten to school at 7 yet. I have to wait for Babs and she’s not always ready. And staff worship has been ending late, around 7:40 or so, so I end up rushing around still. I’m also tending to actually get into bed at 10 or a little after rather than at 9, but still it’s a vast improvement, and I’m very happy with the changes to my life.

On a low note, our travel plans for this summer are getting really, really screwed up, all because we have to go to Hawaii. Babs has principal's meetings at the end of every summer and they used to be in California, but this year they moved them to Hawaii, and it's going to end up costing us way more out of pocket for her (and me) to come home to see our families this summer (the school only pays for her to fly to the meetings, and we've always paid the difference out of pocket. Well, with the meetings in Hawaii, the difference is now over $1000.).

"But you get to go to Hawaii. . .," some might say.

Big deal. When you live on a tropical island in the Pacific, what's Hawaii but another tropical island in the Pacific (and plus we've already beent there tons of times).

My wife and I were trying to work out the details this afternoon and it was so frustrating. I hate it when we're both stressed and we have this impatient, high-pitched whine to everything we say and our faces have this pained, constipated look.

Next week promises to be very busy. We've got the evangelistic series going on our yard, drama rehearsals, our 5K race on Thursday, and Per Chance to Dream next Sat. night.

And the week after that Palau!

A couple of bonus photos! Here's Babs at the "ribbon-cutting" ceremony for our new playground that she got for our school with federal grant money!

The new playground.

Apr 22, 2006

Hello friends, family and readers from far away. It's been a busy week. The fourth busy week in a row for us. It all began way back at the end of February with the church evangelistic series that began at the end of Feb. and ran into the first two weeks of March. Then we had a one week "break" when I was frantically planning for our trip to Korea. Then we went to Korea. Came back and went directly into production week for our drama team's dinner show. The week after that was parent teacher conferences, and then last week the youth week of prayer.

One sure sign that my life is out of balancie is the condition of my desk at school. The messier it is, the more stresed and overworked I am. As you can see, in this photo it's been pretty crazy! In the midst of all this busy-ness our house has been neglected, sleep deprivation has become the rule rather than the exception (until this past Tuesday, I had not had a good night's sleep in more than two weeks!), and our diet has come to dangerously close that of the guy in Super Size Me. On Weds. and Thurs. I ate nothing but McDonald's and by Thursday night I was feeling it!

The week of prayer was successful though. Monica, our kindergarten teacher and my co-director in REAL Christian Theater, was the chief organizer and she did a fantastic job. The place was full every night (and even this morning for church) with kids and youth. The program was tight, the music uplifting, and the Spirit present. Here's a photo from the Thurs. night program. Barbara is upfront with the worship team.

There was a lot of drama with REAL, my youth drama ministry-and I'm not referring to anything haveing to do with acting. Our sound tech/stage manager quit late last week, and on Monday Monica announced that she would not be going with us on our upcoming tour to Palau. She's since changed her mind. Whew!

That's the next big event on our calender right now--the tour to Palau. We're all excited, but there is still a lot to do and at least $2000 still to raise. We've got a 5K run that we want to do in two weeks and we will be staging "Per Chance to Dream" again also in about two weeks. Hopefully between that and mail-in donations we will get the funds we need. We've already made our reservations so we are going--as to how it will come together, only God knows. Pray for us!

Here's a photo of me and Vince, my running buddy (and the Grade 1/2 teacher at our school) taken on Thursday at lunch recess. I know Mom will be horrified by the hair. Sorry mom :(

Island, Easter

There's something to be said for getting up early. The day is so much longer and tends to go by at a more relaxed pace.

Despite going to bed really late (maybe 1:00 A.M.) we got up and went to the sunrise Easter service. I was exhausted all morning but it was worth it.

The inter-denominational service (our pastor contributed the opening prayer) was held on an open field next to an empty government building in Capitol Hill, one of the higher villages on Saipan. The service participants did their bit in front of the building and we all sat on the field sloping down away from them. It felt a little weird to be sitting "uphill". From this elevation you can see the Philippne Sea to the west, on your right, cool blue in the morning. On your left, to the east, the sun is cracking over the Pacific, rising as we sing songs of the Risen Lord. I got a little choked up as the sunlight blazed over us as we sang "Above All" and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High", reminding of the light of the Resurrection. It was a beautiful moment.

The music was the best part of the service. The homily was nice, I'm sure, but it was lengthy and my mind drifted. It's hard to take in a full-on sermon at 6 o clock in the morning. But the music was lovely. . .After the homily the members of the local Chuukese congregation sang a song. They sang in Chuukese, and though I only remembered a few words of the language (I used to live in Chuuk, another Pacific Island far more remote and undeveloped than Saipan), it really touched me. . .brought back a lot of memories. Classic Chuukese music, with the everpresent keyboard riff, and the slow, slightly droning, repetitive choruses sung in a high-pitched harmonies. I realize it doesn't sound very beautiful but that's partly because my description really doesn't do it justice.

A lot of friends we hadn't seen in awhile were there. Russ and Kanae, just back from five weeks in the States. Rex and Clarie, our friends and mentors in Marriage Encounter. Rod and Jean, the couple from Oregon who Barbara and I "took care of" during the last Marriage Encounter Weekend. I was looking forward to getting caught up with everyone after the service, but as soon as it was done, one of our church members, Joel snatched us up, inviting us to breakfast at his house. We couldn't say no, so we said hasty good-byes to our friends and were off to breakfast.

Joel and his wife, Lovely have recently built a new house and were eager to show it off. It's a nice place, far larger than what most of our church members live in. It was interesting to note the differences in American and Filipino tastes and preferences though. The outside had a vaguely Mediterranean feel, white walls and red tile roofing, with lots of garden landscaping. So far we were on the same page. Inside, however, the house was very different from what our American sense of style was used to. The ceilings were low with heavy chandeliers, and they were all kind of "recessed." I don't know how to describe this. I wish I'd brought my camera. It's like how in a U.S. home you have crown molding, well in this house the crown molding was like seperate from the rest of the ceiling. It stands out from it--a kind of 3-D effect. I'm making a real mess of describing this.

Anyway, it was like nothing I'd ever seen. The rooms were spare compared to American rooms--not a lot of furniture, and the bathrooms were small and dark--even the master bath. I don't think anyone other than Americans puts so much emphasis on the bathroom, turning it into a kind of palace. Some American bathrooms are bigger than people's bedrooms in other cultures.

We ate a breakfast of a creamy chicken chowder, some kind of butter topped pancake muffin, lots of orange juice, and bread. The pastor was there and another friend of ours.

We left around 9:30, and headed over to Rex and Clarie's house where we spent about an hour and a half roaming Rex's landscaped gardens collecting seeds and cuttings and whole plants for Barbara's garden project in our own backyard. It was a gorgeous day--brilliant blue sky, puffy white clouds, a panoramic view of the reef and lagoon spreading out below us. Walking among the plants, the beautiful flowers, listening to the quiet, the gentle breeze, the birds chirping, was soothing to the soul.

By 11 we were on our way to the airport to pick up Edwin, our speaker for the Youth Week of Prayer. Babs and I, along with the other teachers, met him and took him to lunch at Truongs, a local Vietnamese restaruant.

At noon, the day wasn't even half over and already it was full.

After lunch, we dropped Edwin off at the apartment where he's staying, went home, and took a much needed nap.

We spent the late afternoon watching "Grey's Anatomy" on the VCR from last Sunday last Sunday night (since we were busy with the dinner theater). Babs worked in the garden. I washed the dog, and surfed the net.

All in all, a quiet island Easter.

Apr 14, 2006

Welcome to the Journal Online

The Journal, my daily record of my life, which has filled close to 40 books over the past 20 years has finally moved into the digital age, with this, the online edition of the Journal.

The paper and pen volume will continue (as I still have a lot to write about for my eyes only) but this online edition will serve as a place to share my experiences, thoughts, and observations with others. Primarily this blog has been created for the benefit of friends and family members who are interested in knowing about our lives out here on the tropical island of Saipan.

I'm not sure how often I'll update the blog. Right now we still use dial-up at home which makes it very difficult to upload pictures so I'll have to do that at school. Right now I'm estimating about once a week (maybe more early on).

I'm hoping to add additional blogs on various topics such as faith, politics, etc. Those who know me well know that I always enjoy a good thought provoking debate. I'll also add links to Interference, the U2 fan website where I often post and my myspace page (which I almost never visit. . .but maybe I will more. . .or maybe not).

It's Sabbth morning here in Saipan, and we are about to leave for Sabbath School. The church is on a new mission to guilt everyone into coming into SS so I guess we have to go.

Dispatch from Korea, Day 7 "Korea Has Won My Heart & Seoul"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Our last day in Korea. It seemed both an eternity and only yesterday since we’d arrived. The President was unabashedly homesick. All she could think about was going home and couldn’t be happier. She has sworn never to leave Saipan again. She is not a traveler. For me travel is such a given. Who wouldn’t want to travel? But I’m learning there is this entire subset of the human race for whom travel is anathema. I call them the Mitford People, named after the slightly dull set of novels about a round-faced parson in the small town of Mitford. These novels romanticize the life where you live you’re whole life in a little town where everyone knows you and you never leave. It’s a life I can’t imagine finding fulfilling, but one for that many people holds a great deal of appeal. The President is one such person.

We spend the day in hurried shopping. We arrive back in Insa-dong at guess?

That’s right 12:15. We NEVER did ANYTHING on this entire trip before noon. Well except for church on Saturday. But that was 11:15. That’s one thing I really regret. I feel like we wasted half of our time in Korea puttering around our guesthouse. This is the first class trip I’ve ever chaperoned where we had no organized tours, and without those hard and fast departure times, we seemed to have real difficulty getting going in the morning.

After Insa-dong (where Babs purchased several original works of art for our home and left very happy with her purchases) it was back to Dongdaemun, and then back to our guesthouse where we loaded up the AMSC van. The chaplain, Pastor Fritz dropped us off at the bus station and we took the bus back to Incheon and our flight home.

On the bus ride back, I listened to U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and wrote my sister her birthday card. The memory I will keep is of listening to “Yahewah” and watching the Korean landscape bathed in golden, late afternoon sunlight roll by. I love those moments where your life feels like a movie, complete with a soundtrack playing in the background.

Memories of our Korean Adventure:

1. Steps. There are stairs everywhere in and out and throughout the subway stations, in and out of the under- and overpasses, in and out of our guesthouse on the third floor. No wander Koreans are so thin.

2. It seems like Korean women of a certain age all have short, curly hair. Is there a rule?

3. Selfishness. I”ve been officially labeled “selfish” by my wife and the girls. This stemmed from Monday at the Sandpresso coffee shop near Kyeongbokung Palace where we had lunch. It came to light that I don’t like to share my food. Which is true. I don’t. I admit it. So it became the running joke of the trip. At every meal someone would make a great show of offering to share their food. I also offered to share my food at every meal, but my sincerity was always questioned, and I was ultimately dismissed for trying to “hide” my selfishness by sharing.

4. OCD. The Vice President has a mild form of it. If someone touches her on the shoulder she has to touch herself on the other shoulder to “balance” it. I thought she was exaggerating until she said she felt compelled to count the multitude of stairs we climbed each day, and then proceeded to matter-of-factly stated that there were 89 steps on the overpass near our guesthouse. After that everyone wanted to claim that every little picky-ness and preference was evidence of their own latent OCD.

5. The weather changes in Korea. This was very disconcerting to us. Remember, Saipan is in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the least temperature variation in the world. So it was weird to find it cold in the morning and then only a few hours later go out and again and—what’ this? It’s warmer now? What’s up with that? Or more often. . . “Why is it so much colder now. Just a little bit ago it was warmer. What IS this?”

I really loved Korea. I liked the people, the language, the big-city life, the refined and classy culture. I feel like I could live there for a year or two. Maybe when we are ready to leave Saipan we’ll go teach English in Korea and make a bucket load of money before we go back to the Mainland. But who knows when that will be.

Dispatch from Korea, Day 6 "Eating Follies and the Search for Papa Johns"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

We actually managed to get on the metro by 9 o’ clock or so. We still the missed the 10:30 bus from Suwon station out to the Korean Folk Village, but we caught the 11:30 one and arrived by yes, 12 o clock. The Korean Folk Village was a fascinating place and I wish we’d had more time. It’s acres of a traditional Korean village staffed by people who essentially live the life of the old-time Koreans (at least until 5:30 when it closes). They had the usual handicraft shops, but here you could actually see the items being made in the way they’d been crafted for centuries. There was a paper mill, a blacksmith, a brass smelter, a wood-burning artist, and many others. We only had four hours until our shuttle returned to Suwon station and it was not near enough to see and appreciate all that they had there. We did manage to see a re-enactment of a traditional Korean wedding and some dances. We also saw girls do a see-saw routine which was quite remarkable. The girls were most excited about the small, thoroughly modern amusement park attached to the village. Most of the rides were closed—still too early in the year to be running roller coasters I guess. But some of the rides—the Viking (you know, the swinging boat thing), the Simulator (sit inside this box that bounces and jerks around while you watch a faded first person film of being on a rollercoaster), the Music Express (one of those rides that spins you around backwards at nauseatingly high speeds, and the girls’ favorite, the bumper cars. They were practically the only kids in the park so they got to go on the all the open rides as many times as they wanted. I felt bad about them missing Lotte World’s rides the day before so I let them play, rather than forcing them to walk around and look at the more educational village itself.

We managed to make a spectacle of ourselves at lunch time at the Korean Folk Village. We looked over the menu at the ticket booth, and saw some things listed as “meals”, others as “side dishes” and others as “special menu.” So we ordered oh, one meal, and then a side dish. . .and what the heck maybe an item from the special menu. And a drink from the drink menu. For each of us, of course. The cashier looked at me kind of funny and as we paid she whispered under her breath, “Wow.” I thought that was a bit funny. Maybe “wow” mean’t something in Korean, but it sounded suspiciously like the English to me the way she said it. As in: Oh. My. Goodness. Wow.

So we go to pick up our food at the various traditional Korean kitchens (food cooked over open fires by little old ladies in traditional Korean garb) and found that each item on the menu was a FULL MEAL with a numerous sides of kimchi, soup and so on. Apparently, “side dish” means something different in Korean. We had ordered WAY too much food.

I’m not sure whether it was more or less pathetic that we ate it all.

The eating experience was neat. They put us in these little enclosed booths. We took off our shoes, went inside, and they shut the doors. We ate sitting on a heated floor off of low wooden tables. It felt very “cultural.” We loved it. Such tourist we are.

After lunch, it snowed briefly and the girls were absolutely thrilled!

Around four o clock we missed our shuttle back to Suwon station, so instead paid $18 US for a cab back to the train station. We took the subway back to Seoul where we began our hunt for Papa Johns. The Vice President had spotted one out the windows of the metro and decided she wanted Papa Johns pizza. So the search began. After many phone calls and much walking in the freezing rain we finally found it. We ordered it and ate it on the run, on the bus and the subway on our way back to the Seoul Arts Center for a Brian Crain concert.

Brian Crain is a San Fransciscan pianist who specializes in that soothing, catchy, vaguely New Age-y music. The songs are short, pretty, and vaguely cinematic. We’d never heard of him, but my wife was determined that the girls should get as much big-city culture as possible on this trip, and since we just missed the Seoul Symphony, arriving a day after their concert, Brian Crane would have to suffice. Actually I think this was mainly for her. Babs really misses being able to hear good classical music live. We don’t have much of that in Saipan. Actually we don’t have any of that in Saipan.

Crain wasn’t bad. He played mostly duets with this stunningly beautifully Korean celloist, and then for the second half of the concert, with a string quartet. It was beautiful. Live strings have to be among the most beautiful sounds in the world. And the concert hall itself was an experience, with its exquisitely wood paneling, golden lighting, amazing acoustics, and plush seats.

The girls slept through virtually the entire concert, but at least it was gorgeous music to sleep to.

Dispatch from Korea, Day 5 "Not a Lotte Going on in Lotte World"

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The highlight for the kids—the one strictly “fun day” for the kids turned out to be a bit of a let down. We arrived at Lotte World around noon (We could not seem to do much of anything in the morning during this trip), only to find much of the place closed down. I can’t think of any company in the U.S. to compare with the behemoth that is Lotte. Lotte has its hands in just about everything in Korea. There is the Lotte Department store. The Lotte Hotels. The Lotte snack foods. The Lotteria burger chain. And there is Lotte World where it all comes together—all the elements of the Lotte kingdom in one place plus Korea’s largest indoor amusement park, and outdoor park complete with Lotty and Lorry character costumes—a kind of Korean Disney World.

Unfortunately for us, we arrived to find that there wasn’t a whole “Lotte” going on. The indoor amusement park and the outdoor “Magic Island” amusement park were both closed, despite their being advertised as open 365 days a year. I suspect it had to do with someone who died in the park in an accident in the park about a month or so ago. We were told that the park would reopen on Sunday, which was too late for us.

So we made do the best we could. The Vice President had to sit in a Lotteria for an hour with me as punishment for her rude and disrespectful behavior towards us the day before but after that the fun, such as there was to be had, began. The girls played in the video arcade for awhile. The Vice President and the Secretary went ice skating, and though they weren’t very good and it took them half the time just to learn to inch along without having to hang onto the railing the whole time, they had a lot of fun.

While I watched the girls ice skate, I recorded these random observations in my pen and paper journal:

“Black youth culture is THE arbiter of cool in the world today.” We blacks are so cool (I don’t know what gives me the right to include myself in this “coolness”. I might be black but I’m a bit of a dork. And I talk like a white person. But oh well. . .). “Yeah there are subsets of other types of “cool”, like the rockers. But essentially it is hip-hop, R & B, and soul that everyone is imitating. It’s all evident in this Korean hip-hop video. The posturing, the clothes, the scantily clad flygirls grinding seductively in the background. It’d be so much more interesting if the mainstream were shared and you could have totally new and fresh versions of cool besides Western pop culture. I can’t really imagine what that would be like.”

“An image of the East rising and the West, well, stumbling. These two little white boys, maybe seven or eight stumbling and falling on the ice while Korean boys their age and younger whiz by in aerodynamic skate suits, helmets, one hand behind their backs in the curves, bent low in imitation of the speed skating stance.”

“Why are no Asian bands on the ‘cutting edge.’” Bands come from America, from Britain, and to a degree from other European countries and Australia. Even Iceland has Bjiork. But you don’t find anyone coming out of Asia and rocking the world, gaining international fame and Western pop cultural respect. “Do they just not make fresh new music or is it just that Asian pop artists are ignored by Western tastemakers?”

We ate at T.G.I. Fridays. I ordered Korean bolgagi (beef) barbeque.

We briefly debated going to the Seoul Tower, but in the end decided to go back to the guesthouse and watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Dispatch from Korea, Day 4 "The President Goes Ballistic"

Monday, March 27, 2006

Again we leave the guesthouse late. So late that we have to change our plans. It’s too late in the day to go to the Korean Folk Village located about a hour and half train ride outside of Seoul. So instead we went to Kyeongbokung Palace. We tried to get there for the noon guided tour in English, but we ran into Ms. L, a former teacher at our school in the subway station. She had been visiting her fiancĂ© in the Philippines and had a 14 hour layover in Seoul on her way back to the U.S. mainland. She was meeting a friend for lunch and we just happened to run into her. What are the odds? The students had a giggly blast taking snaps with her.

The girls loved the tour and kept the guide after the tour was over for an extra 20 minutes asking questions about Queen Min, the heroine of “The Last Empress.” It was something to stand on the very grounds where she lived and died. We visited the National Folk Museum on the grounds of the palace, and it was like most musueums—more to see than you could ever have time for. Museums always leave me vaguely frustrated that I’m missing out on something since I can’t see it all.

After that it was off to Dongdaemun, one of the major shopping districts of Seoul. Rows of booths with sellers hawking sunglasses, jewelry, baseball caps, belts, socks (socks are really popular in Korea. There are little stands all over Seoul selling socks like hot dogs sell in New York City), clothing of all sorts, shoes wrapped in clear plastic, fake Louis Vuitton handbags, men’s and women’s underwear (especially popular were the impossibly small-sized bra and panty sets), watches, and much more. Interspersed with the merchandise booths were food stand selling hot chestnuts, kabobs, sushi, and these strange hot-dog-and-french fries-deep-fried-on-a-stick and drizzled in ketchup. Towering above all this are high rise shopping malls all glaring, flashing neon and chrome with names like Doota! and Migliore!

It was here in the warrens of Dongdaemun that the Vice President lost it. First she lost (or was pick pocketed) her wallet. Second, she lost her mind. She just went ballistic. She stalked off, shouting at anyone who talked to her, lashing out at anything and anyone. We basically followed her around as she stalked about manically looking for a wallet that was long, long gone. She demanded to go back to Saipan. Now. She demanded to call her mom. Now. She told my wife to shut up when she tried to talk to her. She refused to eat. She raged, sulked, pouted, and eventually rested in sulleness.

We went home subdued.

Dispatch from Korea Day 3--"The Last Empress"

Sunday, March 26, 2006—“The Last Empress”

It took all morning to get out of the guesthouse. We arrive in Insa-dong at around 1:30 P.M. Insa-dong is a charming, artsy area of Seoul chock full of little art galleries, little tea shops, little antique stores. On Sundays the main street of Insa-dong is closed to vehicles and the street fills with tourists and Koreans out to enjoy the ambience. When we arrive a quartet of incongruous white guys are playing New Orleans jazz at the end of the street. Elsewhere are old Korean men with beards playing bamboo pipes. One ornery looking man sits stock still while birds land on his arms and chest and he gruffly feeds them from his pockets.

I stayed in Insa-dong only briefly, leaving my wife and students to shop while I took the metro down to the Seou lArts Center to enquire about getting tickets for the Broadway-style musical “The Last Empress.” I got the tickets and returned to Insa-dong where I shopped for maybe an hour. I had budget of $60 to spend on this trip. I spent $40 before I even left Saipan. So I only shopped for one person—my younger sister, who turned 28 yesterday. I bought her a small wooden brush canister decorated with hangul characters (or a vase—truthfully I don’t know what it is, but it looks cool. It will make a good art object. I am such a tourist.), a handmade card (which I later discovered was a holiday card when I opened it to write to her. “Happy Holidays and Happy New Year” it said inside. I’m such a tourist, it’s pathetic!), and a celadon tea cup with strainer and lid (The celadon tea cup I promptly broke that evening, dropping it twice on the subway. I had to go back and buy it again later that week). Shopping finished we all hopped on the subway again and returned to the Seoul Arts Center for “Empress.”

The Last Empress was gorgeous. I have found I really admire the Korean people. Throughout their history they’ve been surrounded by stronger, more aggressive nations on either side. Japan on the one side, China on the other. Repeatedly they have been overwhelmed, conquered, pushed around by these more powerful countries, and yet. . .they have preserved their own unique culture, they’ve developed their own written language—hangul, they’ve maintained their dignity and pride. In short, they’ve managed to survive and thrive despite difficult odds and humiliating circumstances. I’m impressed. I see Korea is a resilient nation that has made up in wits what they may have lacked in strength.The Last Empress did a good job of conveying this, I thought. On another note, you definitely got a hint of the underlying tensions between Korea and Japan. The Japanese were definitely the “bad guys” in this play. One scene in particular, I think, would have been offensive to Japanese viewers. These three Japanese merchants and three geishas have this song and dance number, and what really struck me is how the geishas were portrayed as little more than bawdy, vulgar prostitutes. It was such a contrast to the elegant, graceful geisha you see in Japanese depictions. The “rough” English translation on the screen above the stage made it seem all the more lacking in subtlety. The song had lyrics like “Let us steal from these stupid people of Choseun” and so on. Still despite these moments, the play overall was an enjoyable experience.

It was entertaining to see Korean actors portraying the British, Russians, and Americans. Reminded me of those old Hollywood movies in reverse where they tape some white guys eyes back and have him portray “Charlie Chan the Chinaman.”

Quote from The President: “The Last Empress was the best thing I’ve ever experienced in my life!” We loved it. We bought the program for $7000 won and had the actors autograph it, and the CD for $W 20,000.

Seoul Searching at 2:00 A.M.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Random thoughts on my trip at 2:00 A.M. in Seoul.

I wonder how many other "Seoul-ful"puns I can think of?

Going home tomorrow. Don't want to.

I see people with "surgical" masks on their faces all the time here. I don't know why. Are they afraid of getting sick or are they sick themselves and politely keeping their germs away from everyone else? Makes me feel guilty every time I blow my nose (which has been a lot on this trip what with the cold temperatures).

Subway time is brutal. Time goes by so quickly. The constant stops makes it feel as if you've only been traveling a short time but when you look down at your watch you see that it's been like 45 minutes!

My big regret this trip is that we always end up leaving our guesthouse late and losing half the day. Seems like all day we've never really done anything in the morning. We didn't do, see, experience, or learn as much as I would have liked on this trip.

Traveling with 13 year olds is not really fun.I've realized that two of my students are really sad inside and that makes me sad.

The class vice-president has enjoyed this trip the most I think. The class president has enjoyed it the least--she's really a homebody and I think she'd be happy if she went back to Saipan tomorrow and never left again for the rest of her life.

We wasted far too much time this evening searching for a Papa Johns Pizza (which we did eventually find)

Tomorrow is last minute shopping--Insa-dong, Dongdaemun mainly. I need to go to bed.

Proper recap of the trip to come later.
Observations of Korea.Seoul is a bustling in modern city—very different from Manila and Bangkok where we were last year. The traffic while often heavy is not INSANE like it was in those cities. The sidewalks are broad, and walking seems easier here. This is a city that is decidedly middle class, with prosperous dapperly dressed folk (to keep pace, I have followed suit (and even put on a suit, for church). I’ve tied my unruly dreads back and smooshed them down into some semblance of neatness. I wear dress shoes, slacks, collared shirts, and more often than not a tie. It’s kind of fun to dress up for change after Saipan where even hotel managers and politicians dress in Aloha shirts for work--albeit in muted colors). In Manila and Bangkok, you feel the third world is just outside your door, sometimes literally—signs of poverty and the premodern world crash up against wealth and modernity. But Seoul is first world without question. There are no animals, and the poor are much more carefully hidden.

It’s early spring instead of the perpetual summer we enjoy and Saipan and for us it is COLD! During the day the sunlight has the weak, gray quality partly because of the time of year and partly because of the haze of pollution.

The people are quite trim compared to the U.S. (and Saipan) with it’s exploding obesity epidemic. You’re hard pressed to find anyone with extra pounds here. Some of the men I’ve dealt with as I struggle with my basic Korean phrase can seem a bit gruff, but in general people are very kind and helpful to us. In my opinion, there are an unusually high percentage of attractive women—all carefully made-up faces, classy, tasteful clothes, pale slender fingers gracefully clutching cell phones and small purses. The children are charming and serious looking in their extremely formal school uniforms (even the girls wear ties!), and I’m amazed to find kids as young 9 or 10 riding the buses quite alone.

I fumble a lot here. I hold my Journal like a security blanket, constantly referring to and rehearsing the basic phrases in Korean and then my mind going completely blank when I approach a merchant for help. Tomorrow, for the first time we will strike out into Seoul without the aid of an ex-pat who lives here. We’ll see how we do. Still, I like Korea a lot so far. I could see us living here.
Sabbath, March 25, 2006The day at a glance:The day gets off the ground slowly. We don’t arrive at church until after 11 o clock—too late unfortunately for the girls to meet and make some new friends.

A couple of hours from about 12 to 2:30 or so, trekking from our guesthouse to the church and back again and then taking buses to the home of a friend of ours who lives on the outskirts of Seoul where we had a late lunch.

We had planned to hike Mt. Pukhansan in the afternoon, but by the time we finished lunch it was 4:00 so we just stayed and reminisced about Saipan with our friend (he was the principal in Saipan before my wife was, so we used to work for him).

6:40 P.M.—More traveling, this time by bus and subway. We arrive at the Korea House at close to 8. Buffet dinner of traditional Korean food. The food was good but, at over $25 US per person, a bit pricey. After dinner we watched a performance of traditional Korean dances and music. The dances were generally slow and dreamy, full of languid, floating moves. At times the women in their bright long gowns seemed to glide over the floor. The music was discordant and dissonant to my Western ears but it began to grow on me. One piece, played on a two 12-string zither almost reminded me of Celtic or blue grass folk.

More journeying on the subway and we arrive back at our guesthouse at 11:15 P.M.The girls are doing well so far. They are handling the cold surprisingly well, and in fact, are not always bundled to the neck as I thought they would be. They are absolutely fascinated by the sight of their own breath—something they’ve never seen before. They love to exhale just for the fun of it. They hate riding the bus but they endure it without too much complaint. They like the subway better. The President tends to be negative just out of habit, but it isn’t too grating. My wife and I were both sick this week before we left, but both of us are healing and doing well.
Friday, March 24, 2006The day at a glance:Midnight: Arrive at Saipan International Airport. Chaos ensues as one student realizes she left her passport at home, and another is told she can’t go on the trip at the check in counter.

2:40 A.M.—Flight departs for Seoul, South Korea. We cheer ourselves up by deciding to have a SECOND class trip, this time to Japan, after graduation. The Treasurer will not pay for a cent. I spend the flight watching Lord of War bleary-eyed and sleeping fitfully.

6:03 A.M.—Arrive in Incheon. The temperature is 33 degrees and we are FREEZING! We proceed through immigration, customs, find the bus ticket counter and purchase bus tickets from Incheon to Seoul. About 2 hours of bus-riding ensues. My students are bored out of their minds. They’ve never ridden in a vehicle for that long (In Saipan you’d have to drive up and down the island at least three times to match this journey’s length).

9:40ish—Arrive at AMSC (Adventist Military Support Center) where we are staying.

10:30—We go to Tesco where we eat brunch and then go shopping for food.

12:30—Doze in van, while our driver, Pastor Chris Fritz stops at Costco and is gone for what seem like hours.

2:00 P.M.—Strike out on foot into the heart of Seoul looking for a place to exchange money and a place to buy a phone card. I find both with ease and find myself proud of my efficiency.

3:00 P.M.—Former principal of our school in Saipan—Bab’s predecessor, now living with his wife (who is Korean) and their two sons in Seoul shows up and we while away hours “catching up.”5:30—Supper with the kids.

6:30—We decide to skip vespers at the local SDA church and instead have a small worship together.