Posts Tagged 'Photos'

Day 3: A Slow Walk to the End of Daylight

A FRENCHMAN WHO LIVES in Australia is looking for a jazz club in downtown Kyoto. He pensively inspects a folded map, looks towards the corner of Sanjo and Gokomachi, and then eyes me. A black saxophone case is slung on his shoulder.

“Do you speak English?” he asks, a muted sense of urgency between his scattered accents. I tell him I do and a relieved smile spreads across his face — the kind one might get upon finding their emergency cigarette at the end of a hard day.  “Oh man, that’s great!” he says, pausing for a moment to enjoy this good fortune. But at his second question, Do you know your way around here?, it becomes clear this celebration may have been premature.

He’s supposed to meet friends at eight o’clock at the venue, and it’s supposed to be right here. Janice and I lend him our eyes, sweeping the intersection once over and even looking at the map ourselves. But no dice. We’re just wrapping up our second day in the city and our local knowledge is thin. We wish our new friend good luck and start on our way back to the ryokan.

Then Jan sees it — Le Club Jazz (yes, that really is the name), on the second floor above an Italian restaurant overflowing with lubricated wedding party merriment, groomsmen outside chatting with glowing faces. I run down the street and catch up with our international musician and point him in the right direction. Champagne bubbles of thanks and excitement flow in return, and we consider checking out the club ourselves as we say a more final farewell. But we’ve been exploring since the morning, and a hot bath and our futon are singing a shamisen siren song.

Continue reading ‘Day 3: A Slow Walk to the End of Daylight’

Day 2: Honeymoon Breeze

TOIRRETU. THIS IS A WORD every foreign traveler in Japan should know, unless they are fond of doing that awkward dance one does when trying not to wet themselves. But don’t expect to find this word, dear reader, in the pages of Lonely Planet’s Kyoto City Guide. Though they have devoted in their glossary an entry for the word sabi — “a poetic ideal of finding beauty and pleasure in imperfection; often used in conjunction with wabi” — the LP staff thought it unnecessary to include the correct Japanese pronunciation for “toilet.”

And so there I was, aboard one of the sleekest and fastest trains in the world, painfully trying to communicate with the ticket-taker. “Batharoomu wa doko deska?” I asked, hoping that if slid a few Japanese-sounding vowels into my English that he would understand.

He didn’t. He cocked his head to the side for a moment, and then with an Ah! it seemed to click. Then, using his arms to make an “X” he said, “No Batharoomu.” And so I went back to my seat, confused and squirmy with two hours ahead.

Continue reading ‘Day 2: Honeymoon Breeze’

Day 1: By Land and Sea

I LOVE THE SOUND of trains passing. Our car rocks gently to the side and there is a thrumming like a sudden pulse of drums or the the roar of a factory; air moving in invisible and violent ripples.

We’re about an hour south of Seoul. The cities we pass are cold, industrial. Pale gray apartment clusters tower above the brown landscape while in the distance pillars of steam ascend into azure oblivion. The rural patches in between are dotted by low brick shanties with tiled roofs and rows of greenhouses made with wire and plastic. Rolling into Daejeon Station, an old man in a newsboy cap and protective face mask waits with his bicycle next to the tracks. Where he will go after we pass is only a flicker of a thought as my eyes soak in the rushing landscape; my mind is like heavy paper slowly and longingly being dipped in watercolor.

***

With the exception of a weekend jaunt out to the east coast in November, my wife and I had not left the capital since we arrived in July — two days after our wedding. Planning an overdue escape to Japan was thrilling in itself; the sense of relief I felt as we pulled away on the KTX was like finishing the last day of seventh grade. I pushed any notion of having to make a return trip as far out of my mind as I could muster.

We arrived in the port city of Busan and quickly hopped aboard a blue bus driven by a round-faced thirty-something sporting aviator sun glasses whom we soon learned had the most boring route in the city: shuttling tourists the two mile stretch between the station and the international ferry terminal. Traveler convenience, at the price of a young man’s sanity.

The boat was smaller than we both expected. The cabin was clean but its air was permeated by a distinct sourness indicative of past bouts of seasickness. I took notice of the presence of safety belts warily. An explanation saying that the Beetle Ferry sometimes has to take evasive maneuvers to avoid sea creatures (the Kraken?) did little to settle the force of our combined anxieties.

Continue reading ‘Day 1: By Land and Sea’

A City Draped in Gray (Updated with Photos)

March on City Hall | Click to view entire set

March on City Hall | Click to view entire set

SEOUL — AS I WRITE THIS thousands of monks and laypeople are converging on city hall. They are unloading from buses that have carried them, along with their signs and banners of protest, from all the corners of the country. Great gray-robed masses make their way across crowded sidewalks, and hung high above the street are PA systems broadcasting dissent in waves of chanting and drums. There is a thrumming energy that emanates beyond the police lines, that sends ripples through the steel and glass.

These people are demanding an apology, they are demanding change. They see the government as isolated from the people, wrapped up in Christianity while a hefty chunk of the country’s faithful adhere to an indigenous brand of Buddhism. Whether their cries of foul are completely legitimate appears difficult to assess, but even some Protestants here admit that the president — a staunch Christian who earlier, as Seoul’s mayor, said he dedicated the city to God — might be throwing around his religious weight.

Dissent Blaster | Jogye Temple

Dissent Blaster | Jogye Temple

UPDATE September 1 — Dissent continued to foam over the weekend. A local paper reported that about 2,000 people joined in a gathering at Jogye Temple, the heart of the Buddhist order that organized last Wednesday’s rallies, which was titled “a service to condemn the Lee Myung-bak administration’s destruction of the Constitution and religious discrimination.” On Saturday, at the same temple, a high-ranking monk attempted to disembowel himself in protest. (He was rushed to the hospital, and his injures were not fatal.)

The force with which these demonstrations have arisen begs the question: Why? Is there good reason for the anger? Speaking in real terms, President Lee has filled his administration with people who attend his own right-leaning church — the now-famous Somang Presbyterian. Major Buddhist sites have been left off of new government maps, while the smallest of churches are given mention. The chief of the National Police Agency, Eo Cheong-soo, appeared on a poster promoting police personnel’s “fasting prayers for the evangelization of all the police.” A presidential secretary reportedly called demonstrators opposed to U.S. beef imports “a host of Satans.”

In terms of the more nebular realm of history, the current uprising is perhaps afforded added momentum due to an anxiety of repeating the past. As blogger Korea Dispatch points out, many of the monks who are participating in the rallies now remember the early 1980s, when then President Chun Doo-hwan mobilized a massive police force to arrest over 150 monks labeled as dissidents. Chun forced the head of the Jogye order to step down, accusing him of “corrupt activities.” Buddhists were beaten and tortured — as many political dissidents were then.

The difference now is that Lee’s brand of religious bias apparently has more to do with a fervent belief in evangelism, rather than a simple greed for power. In this way, the current situation is perhaps even more dangerous. Indeed, we need not look far back for vivid examples of what brutal kinds of things humans can do to each other in the name of God.

Farewell to a Two-Wheeled Companion

MY PLANNED MOVE ACROSS THE OCEAN has necessitated that I pare down my worldly possessions — including one of my bicycles. It makes sense that it should be the oldest one, so Junebug (above) is now up for sale. A beautiful 1980s vintage Bianchi Special, this bike has seen me through three Wisconsin winters, including the snowiest in Madison history. It seems like only yesterday that going to work meant pedaling through a foot of fresh powder; now I look out my open window to greenery and orange spring sunlight.

On another note: TDT has some new equipment. The recent purchase of a Nikon D40 (which was used to take the above photo) means you’ll be seeing a lot more original pictures on the site. As always, reader feedback is more than welcome.


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