Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!


Happy Easter, ya’ll!

I know that some family back home is celebrating by heading out camping this weekend, while the rest are presumably staying home for a low-key dinner.

I, on the other hand, am marking the day by snacking on some partially melted Cadbury Mini Eggs © from home and studying some Korean. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really realize that Easter was here until maybe Thursday – the weather’s been iffy, and without family nearby to remind me that it’s Easter weekend, it kind of passes here without a thought. The Easter Bunny hasn’t translated here as well as Santa Claus has.

Easter to me back home had mostly been about family dinner anyway. I found colored chocolate eggs behind the couch legs with my sister and then split them evenly – the blue wrapping still being my favourite, and then we’d have a family ham dinner. As for going to church, I do remember once participating in a sunrise service at Heritage Park with my sister and the rest of our youth group, where I regretfully made a mockery of the breaking of the bread as I rose from behind some grassy knoll looking over the reservoir. Sorry about that.

Basically, for me, Easter has long been a chance to be with family and celebrate the Spring. As it is this year, I have long since abandoned egg hunts, ham, and church (not necessarily in that order), so Easter to me can be cleared of the clutter to allow me to simply miss my family, which I do – in spades. I wish I could be there to hide and find colored eggs with my nephews, and to have a nice sit-down meal with the people I love and miss the most. What I can do this year for Easter though, is still enjoy the changing weather (on days minus the yellow dust), spend time with a rabbit, and enjoy these broken chocolate eggs – a result of my negligence upon returning to Korea – the land of heated floors, where suitcases containing candy-covered chocolate are placed before falling asleep after a long plane journey into the future.

As per usual, it’s been a busy few weeks since I last posted. I have wanted to write about many things since then, but just haven’t found the time – or rather, have found too many excuses to get wrapped-up in other things. So, just because I feel like it, in an attempt to update on some of the goings-on of the last couple of weeks, I will allow myself a fair paragraph or two on a few of this things I did or experienced that seem noteworthy enough to warrant my (and perhaps your) attention.
In this entry” Slap Chop, Bob Dylan, Auditioning, and Noonchi-Regained!

1) Slap Chop – I gave one to my friend’s girlfriend for her birthday. What better gift is there? His reaction was priceless, and she’s actually quite excited to take that fantastic kitchen utensil to her apartment and start making those home-cooked meals even healthier. The birthday party also reminded me of two things – that I really like Johnny’s dog, Bodie, and that as a white Canadian, I have precisely zero ability to participate in spontaneous freestyle rap sessions. That isn’t where my creative skills lie. To quote the great Chuck D: “I don’t freestyle much, but I write ‘em like such.” True dat.

2) Bob Dylan – There’s a lot I could say about this, but I’ll make it short. My friend, Ian and I went to see Bob Dylan and his band live in concert at Olympic Stadium – the same venue where I saw Oasis last year and Ennio Morricone the year before that. I have to admit, I am one of those people who miss Dylan’s acoustic stuff enough to be a tad disappointed that it simply won’t happen live anymore. I’m not a purist by any means, as I have been living in a post-electric guitar era for quite sometime now, but I can’t help it if I like Dylan’s acoustic stuff more. Simply a matter of taste. I have regularly purchased and thoroughly enjoyed his later work – especially Modern Times – but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss a solo guitar version of “Hard Rain.” Even “Shelter from the Storm” was treated with a rock sensibility. That’s what happens when your hard-living and old-age keeps you behind the keyboard for the entire night – never to pick-up a guitar.

That all being said, the show rocked – and for me it was more about who he was. As per a suggestions from Ian, I made sure to watch the 3.5 hour Scorsese Dylan documentary “No Direction Home” before going to the concert. It helped put it all in perspective. Here I was with a great friend with floor seats to a live show of arguably the greatest and most accomplished musical artist living and still performing. Really, who else is there with his scope – both lyrically and chronologically? (besides Britney Spears, I mean). Knowing in the first encore (which began with a kick-ass version of “Like a Rolling Stone”) that I was watching a singer who performed at the March in Washington DC kind of blew my mind. His band is incredible and his later years presentation of his musical self is still among the best acts going. The tickets set us each back 160,000 won (roughly $150.00), and though I do admit to a tinge of disappointment about not hearing him sing three of my favourites, and not seeing him pick-up his acoustic, I saw the American lyrical equivalent of Leonard Cohen, and I saw a huge piece of modern musical history still doing what he loves and playing the music he wants to play. Best part is that I shared the experience with a great friend. Nothing wrong with that.

3) Auditioning – There’s an ex-pat theatre group here in Seoul, whose work I have seen a couple of times since living here. As per any group of foreigners here, there’s a lot of turn-over, but they seem to manage to attract enough theatre grads who are living and working here in an attempt to pay-off those student loans. Point is – lots of strong talent to supply their casts for their two yearly shows and 24 hour writing and performance projects.

Well, they are planning on doing there first musical this Spring, so I thought I’d give myself a kick in the pants and go and audition for them. It’s been over three years now since I’ve auditioned for anything, so it was more an attempt to see if I could still do it than anything else.

There’s a great deal more to say about this, and if you’re reading this and want to know more, I’m sure it’s something worth skyping over, and I’m sure it’s something we will talk about. What I will say for now is that it was very worthwhile to audition.
The audition itself went well. I felt like I got a very good response from them, and I was invited to call-backs. However, I decided not to go to the call-backs.

The short version is this – yes, performing and being creative on that level, with the sense of camaraderie that often comes with such projects is something I dearly miss – especially of late as the structure of my job has the tendency to lead me into a slow-slide toward monotony. However, being in this show would have meant missing three travel plans (Dokdo on May 5th, Gyeong-ju on the 20th, and the student trip in the second week of June). Both sides being considered, it was the right choice not to follow-through on the call-back – regardless of the likelihood of being casted. I had decided before even auditioning that I wouldn’t be doing the show. It was unfair of me as it was to use a time-slot for my own purposes – just to scare myself and challenge myself in a way that I hadn’t been able to do for years now.

I must admit though, considering how well it all went, having lunch with a friend in Itaewon afterward gave me pause. I auditioned well, and though I was panicking about it the night before, I feel that I came off as a very confident performer. I know that I had what it took to have been a part of this production, and perhaps even been a key player in the show, though I also know that it wasn’t a guarantee.

To be clear, the show being produced is “The 25th Annual Putman Country Spelling Bee” – a Tony-Award nominated musical with adults playing misfit child spelling-bee contestants. It’s a very funny show – case in point: a song called “My Unfortunate Erection” – a song sung by a character who gets eliminated from the competition after getting distracted by a pretty girl. Classic stuff, and it would have been a fun one to be a part of. I guess it’s just not important enough to me at this point in my life. If it were, I would have been there at the callbacks and doing my darndest to prove that I am as capable as I was doing this stuff back in Calgary. It just wasn’t to be. As it is, I get to travel to parts of the country I haven’t yet seen, with good friends, and I’ll get a chance to take some friends to the show when it’s up and running. There might be a chance in the future to be a part of another show here - or not. But I know that there won’t be another opportunity to travel with the people I’ll be traveling with, to the places we plan on going.

4) Noonchi Regained – After the happening on the subway a while back, followed by the awkward dinner with co-teachers later that week, I had a couple of independent experiences which cancelled them out for all intents and purposes. The first came in the form of a bus driver. I have a certain affinity for bus drivers – my own dad being a reluctant but excellent one for 26 years while putting up with bitter public for the sake of raising a family. It just so happened that I got onto the wrong bus (143 not running the same route as 140, 141, or 142 – silly me) after too long a night down south. The bus went down unfamiliar lanes for 20 minutes until finally stopping at the bus garage – well past midnight, in a place that was completely unrecognizable to me. I watched everyone get off the bus, and then cautiously approached the driver: “Banghak Yok?” – I hopefully, yet pathetically inquired, naming the subway station by my house.

“BANGHAK YOK?!!!!” was his reply.

Long story, short – Mr. Park, the friendliest bus driver in all of Seoul, with about as much English as I have Korean, communicated to me to get off the bus, stand by some closed food mart in the middle of a very dark and very foreign neighborhood, and to wait for him. This, he did about 10 minutes later, where we walked to his van, and he drove me to my apartment, 20 minutes away – all the while, playing his “best music” Pacelbell’s Canon” on the car stereo. I asked his name in the hope that he would allow me to repay him in some way for his kindness. He refused. I realize that getting into a van in a strange neighborhood in a foreign country with a guy I’ve never met seems problematic, but something, perhaps thinking about my dad, told me that it would be okay. Mr. Park – you rock.

The second encounter – perhaps less fantastic, but no less significant to me, happened aboard the subway the following day. I got approached by another older man, who tugged on my sleeve while I was reading. Had I not met Mr. Park the night before, and had I still been bristling from my angry Ajushi encounter, I might have been tempted to take my book and brandish it Don Cheadle-style to get this guy away from me. Gladly, he spoke first and enquired about what I was doing there. The conversation went the usually way – “I’m here teaching English” etc., but over the course of a 6-7 stop ride, this older gentlemen revealed that he was genuinely interested in having a conversation with me. I learned that he didn’t go to university, but that he learned English on his own and that he one day hoped to see Canada. We covered a lot of topics – some rather personal, but still comfortable considering the circumstances. All in all, it was a very happy little encounter with a genuinely curious and gracious old man on a train.

Anyway, after two rather shabby experiences that brought my feeling of Korean alienation to the fore, I had these experiences that turned it all completely around. Just thought that might be worth sharing.

Well, there was more I wanted to update on, but I am ready for bed. There’s always tomorrow… or next week.

Coming-up next: Spring Travel Plans, How I’m Surviving at School, and Visiting a Korean Fortune-teller…

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