Archive for July, 2008


Posted in Expat life, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on July 31, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Is it possible to unblog? Letters, spaces between letters, and symbols get strung together and combine into an agreeable code, and some kind of idea emerges that goes out to nonspecific readers. Can that be undone? No, I guess not.

So I’ll recode the previous: Disregard my last post. I am most definitely NOT going to Japan. It couldn’t come together for everyone involved. In a way I’m bummed. But I have to admit that there’s a little relief. A strange thing has slowly developed in the emotional center of my neural net, and that is homesickness. I miss Korea. I want to go home and sit and work. It’s been wonderful seeing friends and family, but it’s also been a rocket ride of here-to-there-ness.

Tonight I have one last night with the South Bay Crew, then it’s off to Merced. From there, I embark on the last adventure, the one that freaks me out. Four days in the middle of nowhere — and I mean nowhere — with a bunch of my freaky college friends. I’m excited. I’m terrified. I hope I survive.



Posted in Images, Personal, Travel on July 30, 2008 by Elephant Talk

Looks like I’m going to Japan. Strange how things happen. A friend at my university writes an email saying “Hey we’re planning a trip to Japan, want to go?” I write back and say, more or less, “OK.” Then she writes back and says, more or less, “OK.” And there you have it. If the reservations go through, we’ll leave on Aug. 14.

In celebration of this news, I give you a photo triptych of my cousin’s koi fish pond:

Preceding essense

Posted in Culture, Personal, Travel, USA on July 28, 2008 by Elephant Talk

San Francisco is the greatest city in the world. I say that from a completely hyper-subjective perspective, of course. I was born here, it’s in my blood. So all those childhood sensory imprints mingle with the place as it is, regardless of previous experience.

What gets me every time I come back after a long absence is, for lack of a better phrase, its quirky dynamics. There are so many distinct neighborhoods that are easily traversable from one into the next. For example, there’s a jazz festival this weekend in North Beach. Rather than pay $12 for parking or circle endlessly for a spot, I went to the Financial District. I parked on Battery Street, went one block up to Sansome, and climbed a massive staircase to Coit Tower. From there I walked down right to Washington Square Park and took in some funky jazz grooves. It’s like going from one city to another in a half mile.

There’s also something about the ’60s vibe here. It’s not so much the hippies, although I do get a kick out of that aspect. It’s the culture born out of that. It’s the contrast of psychedelic pastel colors, mixed in with meandering green trees and vines, mixed in with weird architecture. That’s the memory aspect kicking in. It’s all still here, exactly as my 6-year-old brain left it.

It’s fun visiting one’s own city, especially a place like this. I’m on holiday and yet I know where to go, and I can’t get lost.

OK, I’ve blogged. Now I’m off to City Lights bookstore and then I’ll meet up with friends for dinner. But before I go I have to mention the stunningly beautiful woman wearing a fedora over there. She possesses indistinct ethnicity — Asian bone structure, Spanish skin tone, Turkish eyelashes, blue eyes… Hmm, more quirky dynamics.

Wayne and Wall-E

Posted in Culture, Film & TV, Sound on July 26, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I should probably be seeing art flicks that I want to see, like Gonzo and The Last Mistress. I can’t get those in Korea. But I couldn’t resist seeing The Dark Knight and Wall-E, two movies I’ve been really excited about.

The Dark Knight, while thoroughly entertaining, didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. It was solid entertainment, but I don’t understand all these online articles I’ve found heaping God-like praise on it. I’ll state the obvious: The best thing about it is The Joker. I won’t even say “Heath Ledger” because the performance is so goddamned good, Heath is nowhere to be found. He completely disappeared into the role to the point where the only thing you experience is this twisted character. Here the hype is accurate; it’s a work of brilliance. There’s an almost apologetic tone when it comes to Christian Bale’s performance — “yes, he’s also brilliant” — but it’s just a polite way of saying that he’s completely outshined. And I like Christian Bale.

I liked Wall-E better. In fact, I absolutely loved this movie to the point where it made me giddy just to sit there and watch it unfold. The story was not only great, it was bold and courageous in a way that’s never been done in mainstream, Western animated film. When a blockbuster cartoon pisses off gaggles of conservatives, you know there’s something a little deeper going on. What I really connected with was the way the filmmakers presented this post-apocalyptic, single-observer world and a sense of total isolation. You begin with one character, brilliantly designed, in a world completely empty of life. Eventually we get a visitor and then we travel to the other extreme — a completely overpopulated world. The story dynamics felt kind of like a symphonic composition, where things start small and eventually open wide to present something much larger.

On a purely geek level, the sound design was stellar. There was no traditional dialogue for the first hour, and it allowed other, more creative storytelling elements to shine through. This is what happens when a sound designer is brought in during the conceptual, pre-production phase of a film. And it doesn’t hurt when that designer is a legend like Ben Burtt. More films should take notice of Wall-E‘s example.

Indulge and expand

Posted in Korea, Personal, Travel, USA on July 24, 2008 by Elephant Talk

In a way, my visit to the States is being measured in food. The United States excels in offering a huge variety of good quality food. The real magic is in that combination — variety plus quality. In Busan, I can get a pizza, or a burrito, or a hamburger… pretty much anything. But the quality is not the same. Koreans are great at Korean food.

It’s not that I really miss this variety while in Korea. But while here in the States, I’m constantly reminded of the opportunities I have. And it’s not just food. It extends to things like beer and coffee. (I have to say that good beer is something I genuinely do miss living overseas. Korean beer sucks.)

So I’m taking full advantage in the time that I’m here, and getting fat in the process. Among some of the more memorable indulgences:

Spicy chicken burrito with sliced avocado (in San Francisco)
Blowfish sushi (in San Jose)
Speakeasy IPA (SJ)
American-style BBQ: hamburgers, sausage, potato salad, various fruits and veggies (SJ)
Samuel Adams Boston Lager (SJ)
Red Hook IPA (SJ)
Chicken-fried Steak with hash browns and gravy (Gilroy)
Spicy chicken soft tacos with mango salsa and black beans (Merced)
Mom’s homemade “company casserole” (Merced)
Eggs Benedict with home style potatoes, sausage and French toast (Yosemite)
Gourmet bacon-bacon sandwich (SF)
Racer-5 IPA (SF)
Bacon, avocado & swiss omelette with hash browns (SF)
Grapefruit juice (SF)
Lemon-chicken pizza (SF)
Chicken tikka masala (SF)
Jack-in-the-box bacon-cheddar chibatta burger (SJ)
Cobb salad with ranch dressing (SJ)
Pulled pork BBQ sandwich (Morgan Hill)

Uuuhhhg… I’m stuffed just thinking about it all.

Smooth little pills

Posted in Expat life, Film & TV, Korea, Personal, Travel, USA on July 22, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I have a new metaphor for my trans-cultural existence:

You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

That, of course, is the choice Morpheus gives to Neo in The Matrix. It works for me because the pill is one’s choice of experience. Regardless of which pill I take, I’m still essentially me. But the environment is distinctly different. My observations, experiences, and thoughts are a result of that environment. What I don’t know in this metaphor is which one is which. I suppose the red pill is Korea.

I find myself crossing off my mental list of must-do things. Most of them involve food: A really good burrito, check; a really good tikka masala, check; a nice IPA, done; hash browns? yep. But I’m also seeing a lot of people I want to see, having some great conversations, and enjoying everything there is to be had here. Last night was a reunion of two of my friends and former colleagues at the university in Busan. It was a non-stop chatter-fest for a good five or six hours. Anytime there was the slightest gap in conversation, someone would pounce to fill it. I love it when that happens.

…here we can be

Posted in Images, Music, Outdoors, Personal, Travel, USA on July 19, 2008 by Elephant Talk

I just got back from three days in Yosemite. I’ve been there many times in my life, but this is the first time in ages that I’ve been there without going to Tuolumne Meadows — aka, my favorite place on Earth. Instead, I went with my parents to a cabin in Wawona, far on the southern tip of the park.

Wawona has none of the grandeur of the valley or Tuolumne, but staying in a cabin was nice. On the morning of the first full day, we drove up to Glacier Point and took in the incredible view of Yosemite Valley, stretching out into Tenaya Canyon, and featuring the classic landmarks of Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest, Nevada and Vernal Falls, and Yosemite Falls.

I wanted to get at least one epic hike in, so my parents agreed to meet me in the valley and I’d hike down there from Glacier Point. It’s roughly 9.5 miles from the point to Curry Village, using the Panorama Trail that passes through Illouette, Nevada and Vernal falls. It’s a mostly downhill journey, so I figured it would take me three or four hours. I realized about a mile in how off I was, not because it isn’t doable, but because I left no time to chill out and enjoy the views. It wound up taking me 4 ½. I kept a rapid clip, but still left enough time to take pictures and stop to soak it all in once in a while.

View of Half Dome, Yosemite

View of Half Dome, Yosemite

Any time I’m in the Sierra Nevada, music takes on a new level of appreciation. I like to absorb the sounds around me as I start a hike, but before long I have to listen to something to accompany these landscapes exploding into my field of vision.

It can’t be too pretty or soft. Landscape isn’t just nature and color and light out there. There’s an ontological component at work, especially when I’m hiking alone. It’s beauty combined with isolation and god and the possibility of death. So it has to reflect that feel. Stuff that works is Michael Hedges, A Small Good Thing, Kaki King, Scenic, and, for whatever reason, Smashing Pumpkins. But the two biggies for me are Steve Tibbetts and Yes. Steve Tibbetts is perfect because he’s got that whole Buddhist dynamic thing going on of life/death, darkness/light… I don’t know, his stuff is just… intense.

But Yes is in a whole different class. It’s a strange thing, but when I listen to this band in the Sierras I somehow completely close down certain neural pathways while sending myself into what can only be described – unfortunately – as a transcendental experience. If I play a song like “Awaken” or “The Gates of Delirium” or “And You And I” or “Turn of the Century,” something kind of magical happens without me even trying. I still have my rational mind and all my logical facilities. But it brings about an extreme sense of focus within the place. It’s a bizarre and beautiful thing – the music and the landscape congeal into a single, evolving entity, inseparable from each other. Music becomes nature, art becomes landscape. Color and sound are the same vivid thing.

I know how cheesy and pompous that sounds. But I don’t care. Somehow I’m able to conjure the ability to hear music on a sort of elevated level and it’s one of the things that makes me absolutely thrilled to be alive.