Posts Tagged 'Writing'

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’

Hello 2009: Looking Back, and Forward

ferry

SEOUL — THE FERRY PITCHED AND ROCKED in the dark waters of the Tsushima Strait. Foamy white caps spun off the tops of waves outside as attendants rushed wobbly-legged around the cabin, passing out sick-bags left and right to passengers appearing in need. The engine of the hydrofoil shuddered to a stop and then started again as the captain negotiated the rollers. An older, heavyset woman stumbled to the back row looking pale and queasy before she was escorted to first class to lay down on top of a blanket. I looked across the aisle at Janice; her eyes were shut tight and her hand cupped around her lips. Things were not looking good.

It was an unfitting end to what had been a calm, even enlightening trip to the southwest of Japan. Our initial voyage to Fukuoka from the South Korean port city of Busan had been smooth: we knocked out soon after we hit the seats, thanks to the Dramamine. Since then we had rocketed to Kyoto aboard the Shinkansen Hikari bullet train, meandered peacefully from temple to temple and soaked in the public baths of our ryokan. We had strolled the Blade Runner landscape of Osaka, ate tacoyaki along its famed Dotonbori and watched the last sunset of 2008 from the top floor of the Umeda Sky Building.

Our journey (what I say was “Honeymoon Part I,” with promises that “Part II” will involve beaches and hammocks) also gave me the opportunity I had been craving to evaluate the raft of changes that have taken place in my life. Looking back on the past six months I saw transformations in myself with which I am uncomfortable, mostly relating to my attitudes towards work and my ambitions as a writer and to how I’ve (not) settled myself in Seoul. But orienting oneself on the map is only the first step; the next is determining the heading.

One of my major regrets is allowing my posts to this blog to become so infrequent. I feel confident that the quality of content still maintains a high standard, but I aim to make the site flower over the next few months to the tune of my new mantra: substance first, then style. Expect to see more, if not truly daily, writing here in the near future — beginning with a thorough travelogue of my adventures in Japan and unfolding into what I hope will be an insightful look at the complex nation in which I now reside.

I wrote when I moved here that this site would not become a Korea blog, a vague term I used to encompass the lot of blogs run by expats here: those both shallow and incisive, aimed at keeping in touch with family back home, venting about the maddening aspects of this society or following and dissecting its news. While I still aim to keep The Daily Transit cosmopolitan and travel-oriented, it seems foolish to avoid publishing my observations or leave unexplored issues into which I now have a unique window.

Cheers to you readers who have stuck with me and best wishes in the New Year.  Stay tuned for the full chronicle of our Japan journey, and safe travels.

Journal Entries: In These Shoes

Map of Oregon, Vodka Tonic

Map of Oregon state. Seattle, September 2007

SEOUL, Sept. 3 (5:25 AM at our apartment) — I WOKE UP THIS MORNING thinking about the fact that it was almost exactly one year ago today that I was loading up the car and heading down to Portland. I’d just graduated from college and had spent the previous month both in LA visiting friends and up in Seattle riding my bicycle on familiar streets, absorbing all the places I had missed while living in Wisconsin. I was confused as to the direction of my life, but not so concerned as to yet feel anxious. Things, however messy and uncertain, felt free.

It seems funny now to think that on the other side of the world (indeed, as I pen these very words) my parents are driving down in the same direction I myself was headed all those months ago. They’ll stop for breakfast at the Country Cousin, as I did, and watch the fog sweep its misty fingertips over the coastal hills as they drive out along Sunset Highway. Their final stop is Cannon Beach  — also the last leg of my own West Coast journey, as Nick and I came full circle before returning home.

Strangely, I can’t help feeling a bit envious of my parents. Seoul is in its last throes of summer, still hot and cacophonous. I want to take my wife somewhere calm and beautiful, where the air is all seawater and pine.

What I remember most about the trip last September was that it was lended a sense of momentousness, though not by any artificial attempts to make it so. Big things were shifting all around us, and driving south gave Nick and I the escape — the distance — we needed to sort it all out and become ourselves. Those four weeks lasted months and years. I will never forget the sunset at Capitola.

I must admit that I wish I could recapture something from that time, hold it now as I struggle with a new kind of confusion and this adjustment to the working life. It seems painfully ironic that despite being halfway around the globe, my current experience in some ways feel less adventuresome than my time in Portland, Oregon. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of perspective. Either way, I could use a good road trip.

Continue reading ‘Journal Entries: In These Shoes’

The Dog-Eared End of Summer

photo by wildpianist

SEOUL — TODAY WAS THE FIRST day we kept the windows of our apartment open for longer than 20 minutes. In months past, the air has been so swamp-like and offending that inviting it into our tiny space has brought only sweat and noise. But a holiday weekend and a drizzling rain have purged this city’s breath. It is quieter, clearer; cool and fresh. Swatches of blue are dabbed in patches above foggy distant peaks. Maybe, just maybe, fall is coming.

It is no doubt obvious to a handful of faithful readers that my bid to rise daily at five AM and bang out a post has, so far, failed. I seem incapable of adhering to such a schedule, and working the night shift more frequently lately has not helped. Thursday night I finished up my tasks around 1 AM  (along with a can of Cass and an order of ddukbokki) and then proceeded to flit through a wasteland of late-nite television. Dramas from four years ago. Old American movies. I fell asleep.

Friday my wife and I spent the majority of the day reading in bed. Try as I might, I could not bring myself to plop down in front of a glowing screen. The feel of the book’s pages and the smell of pulp and ink cradled me in a world far from wires and deadlines. A good novel is like a journey gone right: both wrench us from the humdrum perspective of the daily grind, and leave us standing with a subtly fresh perspective on life. We take something with us. We leave something behind.

Symbolically, the book that I’ve just finished will be passed onto another friend living here, an East Coast native who is now Seattle-bound. If all goes according to plan, he should then pass it back to its original owner — completing a literary cycle formed of happy accident — in time for its pages to taste the Northwest winter.

Deep Reading, Deep Travel: Our Dying Print Culture and What It Means to Wanderers

photo by feuillu

NICHOLAS CARR IS WORRIED that his mind is going — or at least, that the capacity for concentration he once possessed is slowly evaporating. In a recent article for The Atlantic, Carr expresses legitimate concern that Google, and the medium of the Internet in general, is drastically altering the way we think. The fragmented nature of information on the web and the high potential for distraction means we now skim more than we read, he observes, gorging ourselves on information that we rarely take time to digest:

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

The result, argues Carr, is that we are losing are ability to analyze and arrive at insight while reading. While this new trend in thought is disturbing (if not surprising) in and of itself, the picture becomes even more frightful when the effects are extrapolated into other life experiences — like, say, traveling to another country.

The fear here is not that travelers will actually want to experience a country in bite-size chunks, but that we may be unwittingly yielding our ability for deep travel; our sensitivity to feeling lost, alive and lucid. If we keep heading in this direction, there is the danger that after touching down in a new place we will glean what we assume is its meaning and value, and then simply move on.

As my own thoroughly-Googled mind becomes trained to decode one chunk of information after the other, I’ve noticed that slowing down and appreciating where I am seems to be getting harder — no matter how stunning my surroundings may be. Tuesday night, as I sat along banks of the Han river looking towards the lights of northern Seoul, my thoughts continued to flutter. I felt unable to reflect or settle in the moment, without first making a considerable effort to breathe and meditate….and even then my concentration was fuzzy.

Obviously, as print culture fades the world over, there is a more tangible risk — the demise of the independent bookstore. These shops, once venues for mingling intellectuals and quiet gateways for travelers seeking a dose of local flavor, are rapidly disappearing due to a combination of free content available on the Internet and the dominance of stores like Borders. Monocle recently reported that even in Beirut, small booksellers are struggling as massive chains swallow the market.

It would seem then that taking the time to unplug and read a book is not so much of a luxury as a necessary act of self-preservation. We owe it to ourselves to reconnect with our own thoughts, and to not allow the deeper meanings of our experience to slip away due to dulled senses.

Edited June 26, 2008


Welcome to TDT. This blog is no longer active. Read about it here.

Required Reading

Affliations


Post Calendar

July 2015
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Categories


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.