Thursday, June 30, 2005

Caroline's First and Last CBC Slag

I hate the CBC. Okay, so that's a bit much, but I'm ticked off at them. The executive producer (the one who bought my piece) went on vacation Wednesday and told me to send the story to another producer. He got it but emailed me today and admitted that he hadn't known it was coming (due to "crossed wires" on their end) and can't fit it into Friday's SLC. Oh. He said I did a great job and that he had sent it to a show in Vancouver and to some other local shows. Then he emailed again today and said that a ferry had crashed in Vancouver and the mayor had just quit. That doesn't bode well for my happy-clappy little Canada day story.

Bitter disappointment.

In other news, while I'm bashing media organizations, Time sucks too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Canada Day in Korea

An apology to the tons of people who have emailed me in the past two weeks and haven't gotten a reply. I've been swamped. We went to Seoul last weekend and shipped all of our stuff home. We bought some really cool Chinese furniture from this eclectic little antique store in Itaewon and threw in all of our belongings in the crate.

The Canada Day party was awesome and for 6 hours it felt like I was at home. They were selling Molson Canadians and Outback steakhouse was providing the meals....yumm. The place was full of young people wearing "Save a tree, eat a beaver" t-shirts and funny red and white hats. They played all the typical Canadian music (BNL, Kim Mitchell, Alanis Morisette, Blue Rodeo, Spirit of the West...) and people danced and played Frisbee in the mud. It was perfect.

My story for CBC is on the party and I just finished it this morning. I sent it off and now all I can do is hope for the best. It's weird to be out here in the middle of nowhere and have no real guidance or help...but it feels good too. Keep your fingers crossed that it goes to air...

This is our last weekend in Korea and I can hardly wait to get out of here. Next Saturday I will be leaving the land of kimchi behind and flying to Singapore. Unless a monsoon keeps me on the ground...In which case, I might just swim to Singapore.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

To Shelagh With Love

Holy crap. I just got an email from Anne Pennman, Executive Producer at "Sounds like Canada" and they want to air my story! I pitched it to them a few days ago (thanks Justin!) and didn't really think they would go for it because, hey, it's Sounds Like Canada with Shelagh Rogers...and I'm just little old me. But they did and now I am so excited I could puke.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Glass Houses

In other screwed up news...

Have a Little Faith in Faith

I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between passive and active religion. I feel like over the last year I have undergone so many transformations (most of them positive) and one of them is my approach to religion. After my long ascent from religion to atheism I was a little militaristic. If not vocally, at least inside my head. I didn't hate religion but I hated its symptoms...close mindedness, judgment, moral rigidity and a lack of faith in humankind and what we could create.

Living in Korea has allowed me a different perspective. Religion is passive here. Nobody talks about it and people don't ask and don't care. You could be Buddhist, Christian or Satanic and nobody would really say much. I love that. Passive religion is far less insulting and infuriating, and I'm sure passive atheism is preferable too.

Active religion involves telling everyone what you think of religion. And what they should think of religion. I've been told I'm going to hell (not a threat - I don't believe in it) and that God loves me (not a good tactic - Santa loves me too). People fight wars and blow themselves up to prove how faithful they are and to disprove the other God. The same is true for atheism. Militant atheism is no better than its anti-philosophy, crazy religiosity.

Having said that, I must say that when someone comes up to you and assumes you are Christian and think the same way they do, there is a natural desire that bubbles up. You want to tell them you are atheist and that you are happy that way. (People seem to have a hard time hearing those two words placed side by side). And, when the Christian right is attacking things I hold dear (especially in America), such as critical thought, science, evolution, gay rights and the right to have an abortion, I want to fight back.

Everyone should just chill out. If you don't believe in gay marriage, don't be gay and if you are, don't get married. If you think belief in the afterlife is absurd, make sure you don't believe in it! If you think Christianity is full of holes, contradictions and bold-faced happy and let everyone else be happy too. And if you think atheists are going to Hell, just be satisfied that you won't meet them there.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Grand Master at the Tea ceremony

Caroline and Brian at Golgulsa Temple

Me doing the "Tiger Crawl" in my monk clothes! Yup, I sure look like a tiger.

The meditation platform at our temple

Beaten by a Buddhist

I have a new found (and hard won) appreciation for Buddhist monks. It ain't all bowing and chanting, that's for sure.

We arrived at Golgulsa Temple just in time for the dinner ceremony (Balwoo gongyang). The ceremony was very detailed and involved so many steps, I was sure I was going to screw up and offend one of the monks I was eating with. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, each person is given a set of four bowls, all of which fit into one another like a set of Russian dolls. After unfolding a linen cloth and placing it front of you, you have to put the bowls in a square formation. The largest bowl is for seaweed soup and sits at the bottom right hand corner of the square. The next in size is for rice, then water, then kimchi. The monks came around and filled our water bowls with water (we indicated we had enough by twisting the bowl slightly in our hand) and then the next bowl with rice. We had to bring the bowl to our foreheads and bow and then we received two scoops of rice. After we served ourselves some kimchi and the monks said some prayers, we bowed and then began to eat in silence. We finished quickly and then continued with the ceremony of cleansing our bowls. We poured water from the water bowl into each bowl and then, with the one piece of kimchi we had kept (every other morsel of food had to be finished) we washed our bowls and rinsed them with the water. It was all very involved and needed to be done in specific steps. It was really interesting and at the end, all of the bowls were clean and I had eaten my first ceremonial meal.

After dinner we went up the hill to the temple platform for evening chants. We did 108 prostrations to the Buddha and tried to keep up with the monks. After chanting we started Sunmudo training. Sunmudo is a zen martial art which involves fighting, yoga-like postures and breathing meditation. It has been practiced at Golgulsa temple for at least 1,000 years and was used by monks fighting the Japanese invasion in the 16th century. I was put into positions I couldn't even have conceived of, let alone orchestrated, and stretched in every direction. The evening was beautiful and it was really amazing to be up on the side of the mountain practicing meditation with Buddhist Grand Masters. We were surprised that several of the monks in training were foreigners. One was from Norway and had been living at the Temple for just over a year and the other was from France. Because Brian and I can both understand French, some of the meditation and Sunmudo postures were taught to us by the French trainee. There we were, learning an ancient Korean art, in French. It was very cool.

Bedtime was at 9:30 and I had a really hard time getting to sleep...literally. Sleeping on the floor is not my thing. I've tried it and I recognize that it may be good for your back, but it hurts. I tossed and turned for most of the night but eventually fell asleep. Just in time to be woken up at 4:00 am for morning chants. We made our way up the steep mountain side for the 4:30 chants and were still half asleep when we started bowing. Bowing itself isn't hard, but doing it 50 times in a row at 4:30 in the morning with no food in your stomach is tiring. After chants we headed out to the platform, which overlooks the valley and temple grounds, for more meditation. It was really relaxing to be sitting there in the lotus position and to hear the birds singing in the trees. It was cool and the it smelled so fresh and clean. I was really enjoying it...until I got hit three times with a big bamboo stick.

The Sunmudo trainer came up behind me and hit me three times on the shoulder with a big piece of slitted bamboo. It scared me because I wasn't expecting it (why would I?) and it hurt. I can tell you, that for the rest of the meditation session I wasn't very relaxed...I just kept imagining hitting the monk with his damn bamboo. Maybe that was the learn to accept life's little injustices and not get too hung up on them. It didn't work. I was annoyed. After that, we did some walking meditation (if by meditation you mean imagining all sorts of creative punishments involving a piece of bamboo) and headed down the hill for some more Sunmudo training. This morning's training was ridiculously hard. We were supposed to "be like a tiger" and jump our way up the long and rocky temple stairs. Then were were supposed to walk, on all fours, back down the stairs...head first. It was nuts.

We had breakfast this morning after training (man, were we hungry) and then after a brief rest, we headed to a temple building to have tea (Dahdoh) with the Grand Master. The GM was really cute and actually reminded me of my friend John McCrank. It was funny to be sitting with my friend's Korean monk double! We sat with him for more than an hour and he served us green tea (prepared ceremoniously of course) and we had the opportunity to ask him questions. It was very interesting and a perfect ending to a great experience.

I am tired and incredibly sore but satisfied. I've been on this "pushing yourself to do difficult things" kick lately and I'm enjoying it. Doing a temple stay was a really amazing chance to step into another life, if only for a day.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Nirvana (Smells Like Kimchi)

We are leaving tomorrow for a temple stay. We are going to be Buddhist monks for twenty four hours. While living with the monks we'll learn some zen martial arts, live in a cave, wake up to the gongs at 4:00 am and eat alms. All of it except the shaved head. It's going to be one of two things...really cool or really crappy.

Will keep you posted when I get back to this consumerism-driven world we call home.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mmmm...tastes bitter.

Work hates us. More than the normal "You're white, so automatically not welcome...and while we're at it we are also totally jealous of the fact that you get to travel, even though if we were given the opportunity we wouldn't take it anyway" kind of way. The Korean teachers at work were so pissed at us for missing our flight. We got completely ignored on Monday, despite our futile attempts at Asian-style groveling and humble-pie-eating. I've been eating humble pie for the past eleven months and truth be told, I never really liked the taste of it. The mere thought of anymore makes me gag.

I'm all for respecting cultural differences but somethings are just ridiculous. The idea that our missing the flight was directed at any one person as an individual is ridiculous. What is more ridiculous is the idea that we should be shunned and shut out for some unknown period of time until the unnamed powers that be decide we are forgiven. It's one week since our "incident" and we are still being ignored. I mean point blank "Hello's" being greeted with stony faced "Humphs" and followed with a pivot and walk away. Jeez.

Retaliation also seems to be a favoured technique here. We've been publicly embarrassed and reprimanded, forced to carry a heavier teaching load than normal and basically mistreated. The worst part is that we have three weeks left and they have their hands around the purse strings...which contains our bonus. Our whole reason for being.

I'll swallow my pride...and wash it down with some more humble pie.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Brian and I at the highest, and lowest, point in our journey. sunrise

Brian, near the summit

Me...wanting to die.

Me...before I wanted to die.

Lowest Lows on High

There is an old Japanese proverb that says: "He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs twice is a fool." Personally, I think climbing it once makes you a fool, or at the very least a glutton for punishment.

Since June is outside of the official climbing season, the Japanese government makes it next to impossible to get out the mountain. Our group (consisting of Brian and I and our friends Dennis and Andrea) were hell-bent on getting there so we took a bus to the first station, Kawaguchiko and then hired a taxi from there to the base of the mountain. When we first approached the taxi-driver he said "No." No? What do you mean no? What he meant was that the gates to the fifth station were closed (of course they were - foiled by the Japanese system once again. They're smart.) "But..." said the taxi driver. But what? "But the other station is open. It is on the other side of the mountain." At this point we were stranded in Kawaguchiko and determined to see the summit of Fuji. We piled in and rode for an hour or so up to the base of the mountain. He dropped us off (at about 10:00) in absolute darkness and pointed up..."That way." We paid him $120 for the ride and he left us. We turned on our headlamps in an attempt to cut through the pitch black and started up the mountain in good spirits.

The first hour or two was great. The trail (although it kept disappearing) was decent and we were excited by the big adventure we were on. Everything we had read estimated the climbing time to be about 4.5 - 5 hours and we were making good time. We could feel how high we were getting when our ears started to pop and we made it above the clouds. The white peak was off in the distance and although it was chilly, we were well-dressed. After about hour 4 things took a turn for the worse. The climb was steep and the air was getting thinner. We started to get a little light-headed and dizzy, and took a break so we could adjust to the altitude. We were getting tired but had passed a few stations so we knew we were on the right track. It wasn't long after that we started to get sick. The altitude sickness was making us nauseous and we were puking our way up the mountain. Too determined to stop but too sick to go on, we stopped and tried to rest in the dark. But every time we stopped moving the cold would set in and we would keep pushing, partly warm up and partly because we didn't know what else to do.

By the 8th station we were way above the clouds, over 3000 metres up. The sun was starting to rise and it was beautiful. It would have been more beautiful if we weren't so sick. We were close to the peak when the sun rose over the clouds and Brian and I had to stop and rest. We hunkered down against the station and tried to get some warmth from the sun. My toes and fingers had long ago gone from painful to numb and I tried to warm them up under Brian's arms. At that point, I seriously thought that we might not make it off the mountain. We were physically exhausted and had altitude sickness. Everything we had eaten had been "ejected" and we were shivering. Mentally, we weren't all there. Things weren't making sense and I felt stoned. We managed to fall asleep in the sun for about 20 minutes before melting snow began dripping on my arm and woke me up. I have to say that waking up to a sun over the clouds is am amazing experience.

We knew that the only way off the mountain was up the mountain so we pushed on. The last part of the climb was really steep and covered in ice and snow. We would take three steps and stop. The climb had been cut into switchbacks so we would try and so one switchback and then rest. It took us hours. It also took everything I had mentally, physically and emotionally to keep going. It was a vulnerable but empowering feeling to know that the only person who could get me home safe was me. Nobody was going to help us. At this point Dennis and Andrea had gone on ahead of us while we slept. It was just Brian and I, the sun and that goddamned mountain.

Hours later, we reached the summit of Mount Fuji (3,776 metres). The mountain is a volcano, so at the top there is a giant crater. We walked around the crater and found Dennis and Andrea who still hadn't found the trail down. There were cold, exhausted and as mentally unstable as we were. The whole experience felt like a dream. The silence, the snow, the sun, the wind and the full feeling in our heads contrasted with the emptiness of our lungs. We decided to head back down the mountain and started to stumble our way down the trail.

Going down is supposed to be easier. It wasn't. The snow made for treacherous conditions going down and at one point I fell and cut up my arm. After the snow we reached the descent trail and it looked like the fires of Mordor. Red volcanic rock and sharp cliffs. It was horrible...nothing like what we had imagined. It was steep, dry, barren and rocky. We were all in survival mode and powered by sheer instinct at this point. Every station seemed further away then the next and as the hours dragged on we started to doubt (again) if we would ever get off the mountain. It took us more than six hours to get to the fifth station (where we could catch a bus) and 10 hours to get to the top. All together we had been on the mountain for close to twenty hours. Without sleep and without food. We were wrecked. I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk and I couldn't think.

We eventually made it and managed to get on a bus bound for Tokyo. I slept on the bus, on the subway and as soon as I lay down in our bed. If I had done the climb alone I would have doubted any of it really happened...the altitude sickness gave it all such a surreal dream-like quality.

The next morning I awoke to find myself and Brian badly sunburned. His face was actually blistering and we had to bandage up my right hand. It was the worst sunburn I have ever had and climbing Mount Fuji was the hardest thing I have ever done. But I did it.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. " - Mark Twain

More Than Just Good Sushi

We're back from the edge of the world. After being stuck in Tokyo for 4 extra days, we're back in Daegu. What a ride. By Friday we had run out of underwear (the old rumour that you can get extra wear by flipping them inside-out is true), clean clothes, and patience. We showed up for our flight on Tuesday and were running behind. We were there nearly an hour before our flight left but we were too late. I've never heard of anywhere closing the gates an hour prior to takeoff. We couldn't believe it when they told us that the next available flight was on Friday. We tried to get on standby and of course, couldn't. By the time we got in line for our Friday flight they were offering voluntary bumps because they had overbooked the flight. So we took it. After being in Tokyo for that long, what did an extra day matter? The airline put us up in a fancy hotel and fed us all you can eat seafood and breakfast buffets. And gave us a free flight voucher. Not a bad ending to a long trip.

So, lets get to the good stuff. Tokyo is by far, the coolest place I have ever been. As the world's largest city (34 million people - can you believe that!? That's 12 million more than Mexico City) I expected it to be crowded. It wasn't. It was beautiful, modern, exciting, easy to navigate and unbelievably clean. I fell head over heels in love with the city. The food was delicious and we saw so many cool things. Here are some of them:

1. Asakusa: The area where we stayed, first in a guesthouse and later in a capsule motel. Capsule motels are what they sound like, little pod-like things arranged in rows and columns. They are cheap and you check-in by buying a ticket for the night. Very futuristic but cozy.

Asakusa is also home to Kappabashi Street, 800 metres of kitchenware and fake plastic food. It was awesome. I bought more ceramics (gulp) and some neat binto boxes. I could have stayed there all day, but Brian dragged me away while I was still flinging money at the merchants.

Senso-ji, Tokyo's oldest temple, was just around the corner from our pod. It was really beautiful and much bigger than its Korean counterparts.

2. Harajuku: The fashion district is famous for it's strange trends and "out-there" costumes. It was really amazing to see all the girls dressed up in goth gear (including blood and trailing bandages) standing next to other girls saturated in pink lace, ribbons and parasols.

3. Shibuya: Home to the world's busiest intersection, where every three minutes the lights turn green and the crosswalks are flooded by pedestrians. Also home to the Lost in Translation Starbucks, where you can watch the madness from the second floor. We also hit the world's biggest Tower Records where I managed to scoop up some English magazines. A small but missed luxury in my life.

4. Tsukiji Fish Market: Wow. This was incredible. You have to get there early, but it was well worth it. This fish market is the world's biggest (noticing a tend here?) and was more chaotic, exciting and visual than anything I've ever seen. Everywhere I turned there was a picture, and someone pushing me over so that I couldn't take it. It contained every kind of fish, eel, tortoise, crustacean and squid you can imagine. And many more that you can't.

We also visited Ginza (the haute couture capital), Shinjuku, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Tokyo Tower (a copy of the Eiffel Tower). The people were unbelievably friendly, the subway was incredible, and not once did I feel swarmed or overcrowded. It also wasn't nearly as expensive as I had been told. Most of the prices were comparable to Canadian or American prices, which is a shock after living in Korea, but they weren't prohibitive.

I want to move to Tokyo and I would highly recommend that if you get the chance, you should visit. It's like the cool comic-strip cities of the future only it's cleaner. And it's real.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I'm in the Tokyo airport. We missed our flight back to Korea. Mount Fuji nearly killed us and I'm as sick as a dog. We can't get out of here until Friday, although we are trying to make standby, and we are nearly out of cash. At least there are lots of cute robot puppies to hang out with. Will write when we get back...if we get back.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Off to Nippon

Off to Tokyo on Saturday morning. I can't wait to eat Japanese food, walk on clean streets, take pictures of dogs wearing haute couture and climb Mount Fuji. Climb Fuji? "What a minute! Isn't that a big mountain?" you ask. Yup and I'm a little nervous. It's not a hard climb (says Brian), "Just a steep incline most of the way up..." but it will take us four or five hours. And we're doing it in the dark and it will be cold on top. And it's technically illegal since it's off-season...and did I mention it's 3,776 metres tall?

Despite how it sounds, I am actually quite excited to do this climb, if a little cautious. It's my first real peak and Fuji sure isn't a bad place to start!

So, if I don't blog again for the nest few weeks it's because I'm in traction in a Japanese hospital paying 5,000,000 yen a day and being force-fed miso soup.