Thursday, June 25, 2009

Death 2.0

The death of Michael Jackson is the first time I have experienced celebrity death in Web 2.0. It will be true for many people that they discovered his death through things like Facebook or Twitter. There has been a constant barrage of information all morning and it has led me to think about a couple of things.

Michael Jackson is probably the first world pop star to die. I am sure you can make a case for someone like John Lennon, but in my modest estimation he did not have the same type of global following that MJ experienced in places like Africa and Asia. MJ became a global sensation at the beginning of globalization and that has a huge impact on his importance as a world figure. I had a couple of conversations with people in Korea today, where they talked about everything from his music to his plastic surgery. He is a symbol of a global age and global information.

He is a reminder that in death some people will choose to remember the good we have done and some will choose to focus on the negative. I have seen status updates and tweets about how he is a pedophile, and this is his justice delayed. I have also seen people deeply struck with grief over the loss of a hero.

Music is a drug, perhaps the most powerful drug in the world. In that sense, people all over the world are reminded of the different times they “got high” on the king of pop. I think about myself buying Dangerous as the second Compact Disk I ever owned and listening to it on my discman over and over again. I think about the longing it created in me for racial justice, before I could even fully understand what those words meant. His music had the ability to change your mood and your thoughts. Songs like Man in the Mirror make you reflective while songs like Bad make you want to get in a little trouble and have a little fun. Music is transformative and one of the most powerful musical creators of the last 100 years is no longer with us. That is why so many people are upset.

As far as the public fall from grace is concerned, there is not enough information for me to cast judgment on the man. Even if there was I wouldn’t want to. Here is someone that was abused by his father, was not “allowed” to have a normal childhood, had a disease that led to self image issues, and he had substance abuse issues and then we act scandalized when he grows up to be a little nutty, alright, extremely eccentric.

Some people have shown frustration with the fact that his death is such a big deal because of the fact that there are such greater issues going on in our world. While this is an easy argument to make by pointing to any number of issues, I think it misses the greater scope of what people are feeling. This is a defining moment. The world has experienced political uprisings before the recent one in Iran, but they have not experienced them the same way before. In the last week, how many of us have watched silent marching in Tehran, or a woman dying captured on a cell phone video camera? How many of us have watched countless youtube videos of MJ today and had some comment, for better or worse about his death. I remember where I was when both shuttles blew up in my life. I remember where I was when I found out about 911. I remember where I was when Princess Diana died. I remember where I was when the OJ verdict was delivered. And I will remember when I found out about the death of the King of Pop and I found out from a text.

I am truly sad about Michael Jackson’s death. Maybe his London concerts would have put him back in a better light, but oddly enough I think that his death has done that. It seems like far more of us went to youtube to watch Thriller or Beat It videos than we did to see him holding his child out of the window. In a way that gives me hope, because it tells me we still want to find the good in people instead of focusing on the bad. Instead of ending this post with an obligatory comment about looking at ourselves in the mirror or talking about how we can make the world a better place I just want to say that I hope people remember the good in me when I am gone and tell good stories that we shared in their status updates.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My New Hog

The subway and bus systems in Busan are pretty decent. I have been able to get around the city, of 4 million people, with relative ease over the last few months. As my social network expands there are reasons to travel further within the city and the longer I am here the more I want to explore the parts of Korea that are less accessible with a bus/subway pass. So yesterday I decided to drop some paper on this bad boy.

For only 750,000 won, Jill and I will be able to check out some of the beaches along the coast and I will have a new way to get to my soccer practices on the weekend. Yes Nole, I ride it with a helmet. Jill and I have cruised around on it last night and tonight and we are having a blast. Look forward to some upcoming weekend trip pictures.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kyoto Top 10

Me, Jill, and Jess

10. Beer Vending Machines

It seems like there are vending machines for everything in Asia.  I have seen books and iPods in vending machines, but this was the first time I saw beer.  I obviously did not pass  up on the opportunity.

9. Green Tea Ice Cream with Soy Frozen Yogurt 

One of the best parts of traveling is getting to experience different tastes that you haven't had before.  When I saw a long line for green tea ice cream, I knew I needed to give it a shot.  When I realized there was soy frozen yogurt on top I was definitely excited to try it out.  It tasted a lot like what you would imagine it to taste like.  It wasn't bad, especially since it was cold and I had been walking around Kyoto for hours.

8. Kinkaku-ji Temple

This is probably the most famous temple in Kyoto.  When we arrived at the temple it was overwhelming how many other people where there.  It was one giant camera cluster f*@k.   Unbelievably green trees surrounding a beautiful golden temple that rests next to still waters.  It was incredible.

7. Conveyor-belt Sushi

The food, like everything else in Japan, was super expensive.  Traveling there on Won instead of Dollars did not help us either.  We were pleasantly surprised one night when we discovered a restaurant with conveyor-belt sushi.  Each plate was only 105 Yen ($1.05/1,300W)!  There would be two pieces of Sushi on a plate and many patrons would stack the plates double digits high.  The sushi was delicious.  I had Ahi Tuna, Crab, Octopus, Squid, Tuna Rolls, Shrimp, Eel and dessert!  The conveyor was constantly putting new sea food goodness in front of your face and on top of that you could order anything off the menu that wasn't getting to you fast enough.  The custom orders would come on a special train track that delivered the food right to your seat.  We ate there two nights in a row.

6. Bamboo Forrest 

When I think of Japan, images of bamboo are among the first to come to my mind.  On our last full day in Kyoto, we went to a bamboo forrest.  Walking in the midst of these huge bamboo stocks was overwhelming.  It was so green and unlike anything else I have ever seen in my life.  

5. Sake Bar

In Korea, everywhere you turn you see Soju.  It is a cheap fermented rice liquor that almost everyone drinks.  Well Sake is clearly the Soju of Japan.  I realize that most of you have had Sake before, but you probably have not had it with the frequency in which I had it on my trip.  For starters, it is pronounced "Sah-kay", not "Sah-kee" as I have always pronounced it.  I was made aware of this by a Japanese girl I met named "Saki" when she introduced herself to me and I ignorantly responded, "oh, like the drink".  I had Sake, in restaurants, in small moonshine containers and at a Sake bar.  It was similar to a dive bar in the states, but all you could order was Sake.  We hung out with this amazing bartender, whose English included the phrase, "yes we can"!  We ate roasted garlic, talked  with other bar patrons and drank Sake.  Amazing!

4. Geisha's in Real Life

Maybe it's the popularity of the movie/novel that has heightened the mystique of Geishas in the popular culture, or maybe the popularizing of Geisha has taken more from it than it has added.  Either way, when you see a Geisha walking through the streets, it arrests your attention.  They are captivating and intriguing in their mystery and I was fortunate enough to get to take this picture with one.

3.  Drinking Sake on the Hozu River

I already mentioned Sake, but location is everything.  Alcohol is a social beast and many of the best conversations I have had in life have been over a drink.  When you combine a regional drink with a regional location it creates a euphoric response that I can't get enough of.  I have been lucky enough to drink french wine in front of the Eiffel Tower, Cappacino's in Venice, Flor De Cana on a beach outside of Leon, Pilsners in Munich, Makoli in Seoul, and now Sake on the Hozu River in Kyoto.  It was a beautiful location.  A small little thatched roof building served us drinks as we sat on wooden tables in a canyon of lush green trees.  Japanese people enjoyed their holiday on little row boats and traditional boats pushed along by long Bamboo poles.  Jill, Jess and I sat and talked for a long time, soaking in the beauty that surrounded us. 

2. Eating Cherries off the Tree

Many people are aware of Japan's famous cherry blossoms, well they grow on Japan's cherry trees.  As obvious as that sounds, I didn't think about it until I was walking through this busy outdoor market place and stumbled upon a small Buddhist shrine wedged between the commercial bustle of rows and rows of stores.  When I walked into the area that held the shrine the noise of the shoppers faded and there was a serene space filled with paper lanterns and cherry trees.  I am not sure if you are allowed to eat the cherries, but I was not sure that that was what they actually were so I just plucked one off the tree and nibbled on it.  It was delicious.  No one else was around, so I figured it would be alright if I had a handful more.  I had a huge smile on my face as I walked back into the market place.  I'm not sure what it was, but I walked out of there with the feeling that I was getting the most out of life.

1. Fushimi Inari Shrine

I am not sure what to say.  It was beautiful.  It shows how multiplicity can lead to grandeur .  While in Korea a group of us have had the conversation about how we believe that Disneyland has ruined aspects of traveling.  Whether it is mountain homes in Switzerland or a castle in Germany there are certain times where you should be overwhelmed by how beautiful something is because you have never been in a particular place before, yet it feels like something you saw at Disneyland.  When we were walking at Fushimi we kept talking about how Disney had not ruined this experience.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before!  For that reason, I am only going to post two pictures.  This week, Kyoto made it into the top 5 cities I have ever been to.  So, if you want to see more of the shrine, go there and experience it yourself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My ride home yesterday

After school yesterday, one of my co-workers asked me if he could give me a ride home. It took a little while to figure this out. First he said, "I go your home". I thought he was inviting himself over for dinner. I think he sensed the confusion on my face so he rephrased, "you go home with me." Now, I thought he wanted me to come over to his house. We finally were able to work out that he wanted to give me a ride home. The problem was, I was not planning on going home. I had some errands to run and I needed to get to the bank. Since he was offering, I asked him if he could give me a ride to the bank. This was his response.

"I can't take you, my car is broken!"

Really, your car is broken. We just spent 5 minutes figurig out that you wanted to give me a ride home. He said, "It's OK, we can take a taxi." So yesterday, I rode home in a taxi.

Monday, April 27, 2009


The cirriculum for my students classes are often funny. We follow the lives of fictitional characters through books and videos. The videos are pretty cheesy and the students are only into them if something funny happens to a character (like his pants ripping). Today my students started laughing at an unusual spot in the video. Jinho (one of the main characters), was at the top of N'Seoul tower. A foreigner woman asked him where Namdaemun was, so she could look at it with the towers telescope. Each class when she said Namdaemun the students would giggle. I wondered if she was not pronouncing the word right since sometimes students laugh at me when I mispronounce a Korean word, but then I thought, "this is a nationwide cirriculum, it should not have pronunciation mistakes". I asked my coteacher during the video in one of my classes why the students were laughing. She whispered to me, "Namdaemun means men's jipper". When I realized what she said I started cracking up. I know enough Korean to know that Namdaemun means "South Gate". So they use "south gate" as a slang term for a man's open zipper.

Right after the video stopped I was still laughing. The students wanted to know why I was laughing and she told them. Now, we are all laughing and I have to have them repeat the following dialogue.

Woman: Where is Namdaemun?
Jinho: It's down there.
Woman: Wow, It's so Beautiful.
Woman's Husband: Wonderful!

It was totally inapropriate and completely hillarious.



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Something Special

After a long day of work, I sometimes find myself feeling like I deserve something special. Thankfully I live in a country were special things can be poured into a glass for only 11,000 Won.

Monday, April 13, 2009

(Kim Jung) Ill Communication

I just received a computer at work. This means I can finally access my google account from the school. I don't care to spend my limited free time in the evenings writing posts, which should explain my long absence from the blogosphere (If you follow Jill's blog you will know this is not from a lack of noteworthy things to write about). Only time will tell if Blogger access at work will produce more online material for your reading pleasure.

I was able to Skype with my folks today and they had asked me a little bit about North Korea. If you are like me, you are always wondering how much information the American media is actually giving on certain issues. I would love to sit here and write an articulate account of South Korean views towards the Norths testing of a long range missile. This would be incredibly hard to do though. There are the obvious issues of language barriers between me and the South Korean friends and coworkers I get to talk to and I also believe there is a frustration with the whole North South situation that is not often talked about.

The other day I was riding in a car with a man from my school. I asked him about the North Korean missile test and what he thought about it. He is a smart man, but his English is limited. He was able to communicate to me that the missile test upset him. There seemed to be a frustration in his voice about the state of Korean affairs. He mentioned how China, Japan, Russia and America all had a role to play in negotiating with the North, but I could tell he felt like the context of the whole situation was wrong. He clearly does not care for Kim Jung Il, but there was a deep love and respect for the people of North Korea. When I asked him how he felt about the people from North Korea he said "North Korean people and South Korean people are one family." I asked him him if he wanted a reunification of the North and South and he looked at me very seriously and said, "I very very want!" This made me wonder what the response to the North would be from people who see North Korea as part of their family.

This conversation obviously does not do much in the way of helping to find a solution to the rising tensions with North Korea, but I think it does provide some context for any of you who hear North Korea mentioned in the news. Most Koreans believe that an artificial line was drawn in the sand 60 years ago and they have deep deep wishes for that line to be erased. The interesting thing I took away from this conversation was his ability to separate his feelings from the North Korean state and the North Korean people. It reminded my of my trip to Nicaragua while Bush was president. I had a number of different conversations with people who did not like "America", but loved Americans. They disagreed with American foreign policy, yet they warmly embraced me as an American.

There are times where it is easy to think of a government and a people as one entity. Especially coming from a country that is supposed to be "by the people and for the people". I was encouraged by my conversation with my friend. It reminded me that there is a longing for reunification within all of us. It also made me wonder what a foreign policy would look like if we all had the sense that people on the other side of "the line" are part of our family.