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Friday, June 29, 2012

The sky weeps

The monsoon has begun.

It started gently, and very, very late.

It began as a gentle rain - exactly what this country needed after the worst drought in more than a century. I walked home in the drizzle last night and it was welcome and refreshing.

I woke this morning to a light rain but in the two hours since then, it has built. Now, as I look out my window, I can see waves of water reaching from the sky to the ground. By tomorrow, I know from experience, there will be people wading through waist-high water and subway stations turned into geysers.

I just called home.

I left it too late, I think.

There's a cantankerous, curmudgeonly, incredibly well-read and intelligent man I love and respect, and he's dying.

I'm not real good with being away from the people I care for when they're dying. But I'm away.

This morning, I tried to call his home. I said I would do that every weekend but life got in the way and by the time I thought of it most weekends lately, the time difference made it too late,

Or . . . see above, I'm not real good with being away from the people I care for when they're dying. (I was AWOL for a year as his son died.) Perhaps I'm just not real good with the people I care for dying.

The monsoon has begun.

There's something about a monsoon,

They're deadly - thankfully less so here than in countries such as Indonesia, where every monsoon means flooding of poor neighborhoods.

Monsoons are incredibly powerful. As if Mother Nature/Gaia is slapping you down.

They also renew/reinvigorate/change - just as wildfires do (can I send my monsoon to Colorado, please).

I don't take an umbrella in a monsoon. I accept it as it is, enjoy the elemental nature of it, and pack a change of clothes in a waterproof bag.

This began as a post about the monsoon, segued into how I feel while my friend is dying, and I hoped to find an analogy somewhere between the two.

I can't. Just simple thoughts.

Sometimes it rains.

People die.

Welcome the rain.

Love the people who are worthy of your love.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dear Facebook

We need to talk . . .

There are many things I love about you. You support me interacting with my friends, you even find friends I thought I lost (not ALWAYS a good thing, btw), you help me sound out other opinions around the world. I love you for all of that.

BUT, you're getting overly controlling and that's making me uncomfortable. I accept that anything I tell you is going to be shared with the world - for all your pluses you're still an incorrigible gossip - but now you're changing my e-mail address. fb - I love you but that's my private property.

I'd like for us to stay together, but you really need to ask my permission before you make decisions that impact on MY life.

I know, I'm the one who says that asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission.

Sometimes that shit don't fly!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quirks of Dae Han Min Guk, Part I

Korean vendors have a custom they call "service" (said "service-uh," as most syllables end with a vowel sound in the language) in which they give small gifts to their customers. It's almost like tipping in reverse. Service stations give packs of tissue or bottles of water when you fill up your tank, pharmacists give small bottles of health tonics or vitamin drinks and I usually leave the store where I buy haircare and beauty products with a selection of samples, few of which I understand. Similarly, if you shop at the same market regularly, the employee weighing your produce is likely to throw an extra handful of salad greens or piece of fruit into your bag after it's been weighed and priced, as service-uh.

When I lived on Jeju Island and did my vegetable shopping at the traditional markets, I learned to only buy half the amount I needed, so generous were the grandmothers I returned to buy from every five days. Even the coffee shop I frequent in my office building, in addition to having a frequent drinker plan, packages up a piece of cake for me when the whim strikes. Not having the Korean for, "I don't eat cake, unless it's sinfully decadent chocolate cake," I thank them profusely and give it to a cubicle-mate.

Many Korean-owned restaurants are the same and I, being a light eater, often find myself with more food than I ordered or could possibly eat. There's a reasonable Mexican restaurant close by that I go to about once a week and my serving sizes have been steadily increasing.

Today the staff went one better. Not only was my tostada larger than I could manage and packed with extra beef and avocado, but it came with a shot of tequila. For lunch!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Raising my voice . . .

I consider myself something of a dilletante in my approach to this blog in that I use the medium mainly for my own amusement. I welcome readers who find their way to it and enjoy the conversations I have with them but I also enjoy the limited nature of those conversations. I'm aware there are many ways of maximizing my audience but, for now, this is my play-space and not my profession.

I make my money elsewhere, primarily through editing and writing, and being paid to produce changes the nature of what I write. Here, I have more freedom to play with ideas, style and words.

One problem with that is when I feel there is something I really want to make a stink about, it's the writerly equivalent of one hand clapping. (Perhaps a little more - some of the people who do follow me are important in many different ways.) The ears I want to yell into are unlikely to be turned my way.

The solution - write a guest blog for someone who DOES have a wide audience, of which most are the people I want to let know how I feel.

I thank the erudite and stylish Carl Prine, author of such esteemed tracts as "The Porta-Potty Rock" and the wearer of a padded velvet codpiece in Doctrine Man cartoons, for loaning me the eyes of his readers to express my disgust at the birthday favor the U.S. Army gave an officer for conduct unbecoming anyone.

Be sure to read Carl's better-worded and more knowledgeable piece also.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that war remembrances all seem to happen together, or if we have so many wars that becomes a given.

Today is South Korea’s Memorial Day (and as I type this, there is a siren screaming outside, and many helicopters flying overhead, and I’m not sure if that is remembrance or incoming – I guess if I get to hit “send” we have an answer)..

That was very distracting, but reminded me of where I live. The last divided country . . . 

But, back to the beginning.

War remembrances.

This weekend was the Queen’s Birthday (Elizabeth) and her Diamond Jubilee, so the regent awarded honours (with a “u,” my American friends). I was honoUred to be invited to the New Zealand Embassy to witness a very specialKorean be awarded an honorary Order (of Merit of New Zealand).

Today is South Korea’s Memorial Day, when they pay respect to their war dead, not only from the Korean War, but from every other action or peace-keeping mission they have lost people in.

It is also the anniversary of D-Day.

I think we need more poetry in life.

I thought of that because of the war poetry I was just reading, and feel poetry is much more moving that facebook posts, but I think it could be expanded – I think we need more poetry in life, not just in war.

For today, we'll stay with war poets from the past,  that we quote short pieces from often on our memorial days, but are worth reading in full:

In Flanders fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872–1918)

"For the Fallen"

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond 
England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Back Story - or how to not take "No" for an answer . . .

On Thursday I received an e-mail from The New Zealand Embassy informing me a Korean was to receive an honorary New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honors list today (Monday) and inviting me to attend. The ceremony was taking place during my work hours so I found out who the person was (see blog post below) and offered to write a story for my employers. My editor declined, saying the person wasn't important so didn't warrant a story.

This morning, with little happening in the newsroom and the copy desk overstaffed, I asked if I could attend anyway and was given permission but once again told it wasn't worth a story. I went, I saw, I wrote it up.

When my editor returned from lunch, I told him I'd done a story for him to look at, at which stage he told me again it wasn't worth a story.

"Read it," I said. "If you don't want to run it, don't. But read it and see."

I couldn't help but laugh when it showed up to be copy-edited shortly after.

Korean honored by NZ in Queen’s Birthday List

Chi Kap-chong (L) is congratulated by New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Patrick Rata (R) on becoming an honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit as deputy head of mission Daniel Mellsop and defense attache Col. Jeremy Ramsden look on. (Courtesy of N.Z. Embassy)

Seoul, June 4 (Yonhap) When Korean Chi Kap-chong was made an honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit Monday as part of the Queen’s Birthday New Zealand Honors list, he was in august company. One of very few non-New Zealanders to win the award, Chi shared the distinction this year with the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The orders are awarded to those “who in any field of endeavor, have rendered meritorious service to New Zealand or have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits.”

In presenting Chi with the letter investing him with the honor, New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Patrick Rata said the former war correspondent continued to be important to New Zealand-Korea relations.

As chairman of the U.N. Korean War Allies Association, Chi was instrumental in establishing the New Zealand ANZAC memorial at Gapyeong, about 60 kilometers east of Seoul.

“Chairman Chi’s tireless work over more than five decades to promote better understanding between the U.N. Allies, including New Zealand, and Korea is highly valued by New Zealand,” Rata said.

Chi has been honored previously by many nations for his part in honoring service members of other countries who died in Korea’s 1950–1953 war, during which he was a correspondent for the U.K.-based Reuters news agency.

He said the New Zealand order was made more special by being bestowed on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

“I didn’t ask for any decorations,” he said. “I am serving. This is my job.”

Chi said many Korean people did not know what other countries served in the Korean War and that was why he made individual memorials for each nation.

Speaking of his days as a young reporter, Chi told an anecdote of being in New Zealand in 1968 covering the state visit of President Park Chung-hee. He spoke to a young New Zealand Army officer who had lost his father in the war when he was only 3 years old.

He told the president about the officer and Park made a point of thanking the New Zealander.

“We must remember them,” Chi said Monday.