Tuesday, January 31, 2006

And the little square-headed statue goes to...

It is Tuesday night here in Korea. Today is Oscar nominations day, and I am pleased to report that I watched the live announcement via streaming video on msnbc.com. Right on. I love that I could sit here cross-legged on my floor and watch and hear Mira Sorvino and Sid Ganis in a little box on my screen and through my speakers. It's times like these when I hardly feel I've traveled around the world at all.

I think about the whole hardly-far-away-at-all thing a lot. I mean, seriously, if it weren't for the complete and total lack of Mexican food, I might not even notice I was living so far from home. (I should like to point out that I do notice that however. Every day. I dream of tortillas. I fantasize about enchiladas. Even Casa Loca in Seoul does not have enchiladas.)

Furthermore, I think about the ways in which I as a 21st-century traveler have it different from travelers throughout history, and the ways in which I do not. For example, as everyone who knows me is aware at this point, the main (only) (non-food) thing that makes me even remotely sad about being here is being far away from someone who allegedly is in a relationship with me, although based on his actions any sane person would have started reasonably doubting that by now. Last summer I read David McCullough's wonderful book John Adams, and I often think about how very long John was away from his beloved Abigail. It was a major theme of that book, while he was in France and England, how he was steadfast in his resolve to work for and build a new country, but how terribly much he missed his wife. Life was so much better when she came to join him, but they had to spend years apart.

I think maybe I'm nowhere near as strong as ol' J.A. He had to wait weeks, months, for contact. With every ship there was the question: would he get a letter from Abigail? No phone. No e-mail. No text messages. No global priority mail tracking. If I go two days without talking to the ass it feels like an eternity! (ed. note -- But then, maybe that's because it usually meant he was up to no good when he wasn't returning phone calls late at night. UGH. -- 8/2008)John Adams was awesome. (And it's a really good book, by the way, the McCullough.)

Then again, this past weekend I was reading The Ugly American. Yes, I'm still reading War and Peace, but I am on page 640 and will be reading that forever, so sometimes on the weekend I pause and read something else really fast. And this weekend I met up with an expat literary society here in Daegu consisting of English teachers who are going to be my new reading pals. They have a monthly book swap, where I acquired The Ugly American, and I am joining a reading group with some of them, too. Anyway, for those who don't know, the novel makes such a major statement about U.S. foreign policy that its title became part of the vernacular. It was published in 1958. Many of the foreign service characters in the fictional country of Sarkhan live as if they are in the U.S., doing their best to not "go into the hills" nor really get intimate with the country.

"He told about commissaries which stocked wholesome American food for Americans stationed all over the world. 'You can buy the same food in Asia that you can in Peoria. Even, say, in Saigon they stock American ice cream, bread, cake, and, well, anything you want,' said Joe Bing. 'We look out for our people. When you live overseas it's still on the high American standard.'" -- p. 80

It got me thinking about how it's not a peculiarly modern thing to try to bring it with you. And even in John Adams' day, travelers and ambassadors kept shippers busy as they ordered goods from home. I think Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson even procured many items from home that they wanted while they were in Europe.

I frankly wish it were ice cream or Oreos that I missed -- those certainly are available.

As for The Book (War and Peace), I am loving it, not that you could tell by how infrequently I post to the blog I made for it. Today I read the all-too-charming scene of the mummers at Christmas, with costumes and sleigh rides and the 'kids' philosophizing, and Sonya and Nikolai falling in love all over again. It was such a delightful portion of the book; that Christmastime evening has made it to my list of favorite scenes in all of literature. (Other all-time favorite scenes include the was-he-poisoned? meal at Hotel Nacional in Our Man in Havana and the whole Hi-Hat/jukebox operator part of Wonder Boys.)

Out of fiction and back to reality, as it were: today our new teacher came! He started work! We don't have to cover departed-Canadian's classes any longer! It was actually strange and a little sad to say good-bye to the Tuesday afternoon class of beginning 6-year-olds that I've been covering. They charmed me, in the end, and they're so cute even though they can't speak for crap. They get so excited when they see me. Today as I walked by the classroom they wanted to play a "hiding" game and - get this! - they USED THE VOCABULARY we've been practicing! I have been drilling "let's run/hide/seek/swing/slide" etc. in there and they were totally busting it out today, of their own volition, before class started. They turned off the lights and hid behind their desks, waiting for me to happen by, and then they cried, "Teacher seek! I hide!" I melted. But then I had to say good-bye. I showed them their new teacher and I felt like I was abandoning them.

I discovered an amusing picture in one of the Ding Ding Dang dialogue books today. There is a dialogue about "Today we're going to the United States. Where is your suitcase?" etc. Well, I looked closely at the little illustrations for the first time and noticed that the Statue of Liberty looks suspiciously like all of the stone Buddha and harubang sculptures here in Korea, especially the square head. I chuckled. The green color was off, the crown wasn't right at all, and it was definitely not Liberty's face. Come to think of it, it looked more like the head of the Oscar statuette...

Oscar acting nominations that make me particularly happy:
David Strathairn
I haven't seen Good Night and Good Luck yet, but he's always so fantastic
Amy Adams
Junebug was one of my two favorites of the past year; she was phenomenal

Oscar-nominated movies "coming soon" to my Daegu theaters:
Walk the Line
Memoirs of a Geisha


Oscar-nominated movies I so clearly yearn to see, and soon:
North Country
Paradise Now


and Brokeback Mountain of course

Oscar-nominated movies I would have little desire to see if it weren't for their noms:
Pride and Prejudice
Cinderella Man

Oscar nominee in category to which I will pay even more attention than usual:
"On a Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin" nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject

Norman Corwin is the amazing journalist and radio legend who was one of my professors at USC. Besides his life and contributions, of personal relevance he was one of the supporters that fateful semester who had been to Cuba and who offered wholehearted support and was impressed by our intrepid traveling. Even a couple years later, when he did some stuff with Marketplace, where I was working, Norman Corwin stopped to ask my Savvy Traveler co-workers, "Did you know Linda went to Cuba?" They were all rolling their eyes, saying, yeah no kidding, it's all she ever talks about, but here was this prominent figure of whom even my then-boss JJ was a bit in awe stopping to give me props. He is a truly wonderful man: talented, brilliant, and good to the core. I hope the film about him wins! Now, how about that, I've given you all a reason to pay attention to the Documentary Short award! Of course, it's an honor just to be nominated.


Catherine_G said...

Yay for our USC professor, Norman Corwin! That said, I'm sad that the documentary on him is up against Murderball, which was one of my favorites last year. You should see it when you can - it's terrific. I believe you'd love Good Night, and Good Luck, and Syriana, too.

Oh, boy - Bush's State of the Union's on right now. Hope you're watching it via live streaming video! Stay safe - much love!

linda said...

But Catherine, they're not competing! Murderball is up for documentary feature and A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin is a documentary short. So they can both win! Yea!

And I don't watch Dubya's speeches even in the U.S. because I can't stand to look at his smirk. I only listen on the radio (sometimes) and read news later.