Friday, June 30, 2006

Up on the watershed

"Thought I knew my mind like the back of my hand,
the gold and the rainbow, but nothing panned out as I planned.
They say only milk and honey's gonna make your soul satisfied.
Well, I'd better learn how to swim, 'cause the crossing is chilly and wide."
-- indigo girls, 'watershed'

You know, I've been thinking about the things Korea did for me. Korea, as I once put it in a conversation with a Canadian co-worker, is a beast that will climb up on your chest, sink in its claws, and rip off any escapist shield you had in place there. That was early in our tour of duty. It proved true for much of the time.

Here's one thing I've realized: Korea has given me a gift that is like none other. It has made me see/hear/appreciate not a few Indigo Girls songs in a new light. Now, we're talking Indigo Girls here. My Girls! I know every song by heart, I've seen them in concert 25 times, I own all the albums many times over, I recite the history and the trivia like an obsessed dork, and so on. You might think -- what could Linda possibly find new in an Indigo Girls song that she's been listening to for more than fifteen years? Well, Korea sure stepped right up to the plate for that challenge!

I mean - there was "It's Alright[sic]" back in January. I could handle that. And I can appreciate that I'm listening to the Rarities album in quite heavy rotation this week with a new perspective on my life, that one related to interpersonal issues as well. But "Watershed" - and "Closer to Fine" even?? Come on!

Yet it's true. At our cast party at the end of May, after the grueling, fulfilling production of Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark had come to an end, we sat around playing the guitar and singing, in a beautiful, communal, free spirit life moment. I sang "Closer to Fine," with the help of wonderful Simon. who managed to play it after I just showed him the chords and away we went. And as I sang the chorus, I realized that I had, in fact, gone to the doctor (many times) and gone to the mountain (that very day!) and looked to the children (when had I done that in my life before?) And there really was "more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line."

Well that was "Closer to Fine," there. And it just continues, back here in the U.S. Because today I listened to "Watershed," as referenced above, and I heard something new. More from "Watershed" now:

"They say that it's never too late,
but you don't get any younger.
Well, I'd better learn how to starve the emptiness
and feed the hunger."

By the end of my time in Korea, I was involved in one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, directing that production of Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark, which we performed both in our Daegu Renaissance arts space as well as at the Korea Democracy Foundation's symposium in Seoul. There's a line in that play, spoken by Marian Wright Edelman, where she talks about looking around and realizing what life is about. "Everyone needs to open up the envelope of their soul," she says, "and get their orders from inside."

It's quite a thought. The play is full of inspiring words. I'm still pretty stunned that we pulled it off - and I'm really just astonished at the past year of my life, in general.

"Stepping on a crack,
breaking up and looking back,
every tree limb overhead seems to sit and wait,
'til every step you take becomes a twist of fate."

It's not that I haven't been moved by these "Watershed" lyrics before. I've loved the song for a good long while, and rejoiced when the Girls dust it off and play it in concert. But when you really are moving down the path, and finally checking off items on your life's Things to Do list, it changes somehow.

"Up on the watershed,
standing at the fork in the road,
you can stand there and agonize
'til your agony's your heaviest load.
You'll never fly as the crow flies;
get used to a country mile.
When you're learning to face
the path at your pace
every choice is worth your while."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Again 2002! Go go Korea!

So here's something weird. I'm actually a little sad for Korea that they did not advance in the World Cup. ! I know, I guess I got brainwashed or something over there. I mean, it's different with "my" team -- who ever really expected the U.S. to advance, right? And as far as I can tell in my galavanting about the Northeast these last two weeks, no one but NO one here seems to much care, of course. When I checked the standings in the morning paper at Grandma's house I was met with blank stares by four generations of Napikoskis; when my eyes strayed from the Texas Hold'em screen to the World Cup game screen in the bar in Virginia Beach, mine seemed to be the only eyes straying.

But I really got into the World Cupness of it all those last few weeks in Korea. Besides the sea of red shirts("Be the red!") and Korean spirit ("Korea fighting!") and various bad English (they call it "Konglish") slogans encouraging a repeat of their triumphant 2002 World Cup showing, when Korea hosted the event, a historical moment for the country you are incessantly reminded of when you're there...besides all that I've also been hanging out with English speaking friends who care about soccer (football!), don't forget. From England, Ireland, and the like. Canada too.

Like, I think I'm probably now rooting for England just 'cause my co-worker/neighbor Englishman buddy over there got me kind of jazzed about his team. And I can't believe Korea's out. Normally I might be for France, but they were in Korea's group, see. I feel a bit of loyalty to Korea. I even taught my nephew how to cheer "Tae-ha-min-guk!" (it means "Republic of South Korea!") until my sister was like, great, he'll be saying "guk" around other people who have no idea why. But it just means "land" or "people"...sigh.

I mean, here's a typical conversation: "Oh, teacher, you're leaving? So sad. We'll miss you" etc. Then, "When are you going back to your country?" I reply, "June 10." They say, "Oh, you go home just in time to watch the World Cup!" Like, they so don't get that no one in the U.S. cares! Too funny.

I do like Brazil. Maybe I'll root for Brazil. I guess my other quarterfinal picks will be Germany and Ukraine.

And yes, I will continue talking about this, aware that my U.S. audience does not much care. I have been heartened to at least find the World Cup ON in every bar, whether in Virginia, D.C., or here in Massachusetts, as well as on the TVs in BWI airport and so forth. I'm just looking at things so differently than I did in 2002.

I guess that last statement is true on many levels!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"But it's some free times!"

It's true. I am home.

"Home." A word that says so much with so little. I have thought before about how traveling makes home seem all the more like home, and this has definitely happened with returning to the U.S. from Korea.

I have spent the last two weeks in a whirlwind of traveling back and forth between Massachusetts and Virginia, traveling to family, friends, relationship, back and forth, drive in to Boston, suitcases not unpacked yet, then off to the doctor to diagnose pneumonia, throw in a trip to D.C., old friends, new faces, lingering issues, good times, hard times, emotional contemplation, sometimes driving, sometimes flying Southwest, sometimes on a Greyhound bus, rediscovering the U.S.A., and always always always rediscovering myself.

The time has been passing very strangely. I feel very very far away from my friends in Korea and my little world there. I have heard from a couple of them but have really been so busy and so sporadic in my e-mail access. I've mostly been communicating face to face with people on the ground wherever I happen to be. It feels very connected to do that, in this hyper-modernized world. Just to sit and talk with someone I haven't seen in two years over a cool refreshing beverage is very good.

Don't you write it down,
remember this in your head.
Don't take a picture,
remember this in your heart.
Don't leave a message,
when everything comes apart.
Talk to me face to face...
- indigo girls, 'dead man's hill'

I totally understand the loss, bewilderment, sadness, and rage she feels in that song. And funny, I barely took any pictures the entire time I was in Korea... On the other hand it hasn't all been emotionally grueling these past two weeks. There have been so many beautiful moments, from sitting on a Virginia Beach oceanfront balcony watching the sun glisten on the water to sitting cross-legged on the bed upstairs in grandma's house playing a "duet" on the guitar with my two-year-old nephew. I frankly think driving across Massachusetts, spending time in D.C., and visiting colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown settlement were great ways to reacquaint myself with being back in the U.S. Not to mention connecting with people. Oh, people. Thank you thank thank you to all you people who've been subjected to me over the last two weeks. This has been quite a time of transition. It's been really hard. But sometimes hard is good for us.

It was one of my eleven-year-old advanced students who wrote the line in a composition about, those classes feel so far away right now! As if it were in another lifetime that I was teaching in Korea! Well, anyway, this was early in May. The subject was travel and "how do you like to travel? By car, bus, train, or plane? Stay in hotels or with friends and relatives?" etc. One student wrote about his family taking car trips and staying with cousins. It's busy and they do a lot of things and so on, he wrote, "but it's some free times." I absolutely loved it. I showed it to my co-worker Paul who sat next to me and he appreciated it too. I wrote "But it's some free times!" across the top of my calendar, and it became our kind of mantra, our theme, my beacon for that awaited departure date. It hardly seemed real then, and now it hardly seems it could have been any other way, that on June 10 I would leave Korea and indeed find some free times.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Communism and whatnot

I do believe I might never catch up because I have only SEVEN DAYS left in country...Yes, the morning of my last full Saturday in Korea has come...and still so much to write about...and there's no time now!

Today we are going to "North Korea." Oh, ha ha ha, we're going to the DMZ--the Demilitarized Zone, a 4-km wide, 240-km long swatch of land between the two Koreas where soldiers face off centimeters apart. Therein are Panmunjeom, tunnels allegedly dug by the North Koreans through which they planned to invade Seoul, an observatory, and so on. It's actually a noted tourist thing to do, to take one of these tours, and that's what we're doing. Both Americans (the armed forces' USO) and Koreans (tour companies) offer the trips. Anyway, I've been amusing myself pretending we are "going to North Korea" because you can get a commemorative stamp in your passport as part of the tour that you were in the village that touches both South and North Korean land.

Gotta run!

Maids are milkin'; swans are swimmin'

HOLY crap.

I have so much to post about -- a week of epiphanies and partying and people and thoughts and ideas and missing Korea already and sadness and resolve and figuring things out and and and and and and --

and yet all I can post right now is how outraged I am to come home today to find my apartment ransacked by the dude who came to install air conditioning today. Mind you, I did not want the dude to install air conditioning. Mind you, I did not ask for the dude to install air conditioning. My Candian co-workers, the marrieds, have been very adamant complaining about the lack of air conditioner in their apartment (promised in our contracts) but I happen to have said nothing. I'm never home and I don't care. So to my great surprise today the secretary came into my class during preschool with a Korean teacher to translate saying, "We need your house key so the man can go to your apartment and install air conditioning." I said, "The hell you do!" But of course they got the key from my Chinese roommate. In whose room, I might add, they did not even put an air conditioner. No, just in mine.

AND THEY WREAKED HAVOC! I came home to find books, papers, etc. everywhere. Now, I asked and begged and pleaded for them to NOT have the guy come today -- on no notice whatsoever to me -- but that's because I was worried about my laundry spread out everywhere being in the way and the Speak Truth to Power books stacked on the floor and whatnot...

But turns OUT what happened is dude apparently saw fit to take everything off the middle of my three-shelved wall unit so he could stand on it to install the wall air-conditioner, and then "put it back" -- sideways, haphazard, and with stuff strewn all around like a tornado hit.

No kidding. I can't even describe it. (But I did take pictures, with my cool English co-worker from downstairs.) Who even does this? How is it OK? Everything -- books, important papers, all my Hofstra and law school stuff, letters from people, you name it. Moved, touched, strewn, some of it piled sideways (whereas I had it shelved like books) and my computer turned off and rebooted because I can see they moved the power strip and probably unplugged it to test the air conditioner because THE PLUG ON THE WALL UNIT DOES NOT REACH AN OUTLET!!! Furthermore, the phone was left lying on the floor, toppled from my impromptu (cardboard box -- we have no furnishings, remember) nightstand, off the hook. AND, the actual air con has a hose that goes out the window and they did not seal the hole so I have to deal with that tonight because it's getting to be mosquito time...

I'm so freakin' irritated! Seven more bloody days and I have to deal with this nonsense.

I hate them.