Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arcade Fire and Miyazaki

I don’t know anywhere where fall is better than it is in Korea. Granted – I haven’t spent fall anywhere but Canada, and here, and I suppose I’ve spent portions of it in Thailand and Cambodia, but that doesn’t really count.

As has been said copious amounts of times before this, Koreans pride themselves on having four distinct seasons. Aside from the odd blip that was this past summer, where the heavy rains moved from the usual July to August, Koreans can predict their peninsula’s weather like clock-work. Suddenly, while walking one night a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I wasn’t sweating like a pig from the humidity. Fall was in the air.

The summer actually flew-by in a rush of air-conditioning, summer camp days, and a whirlwind trip to Canada. As a result, fall seems to have sprung-up on me somewhat. It is very welcome – It’s warm and clear during the day, and I can sleep on top of my covers with both windows open at night. Riding my bike to school, class, or just around Seoul is no longer guaranteed to produce a drippy Dave when I come back home. I love this weather, and it does make me think back to last fall when I was welcoming my parents to Korea for the first time. Fall is a time to be reflective, I find – more than other times of year, it’s a closing rather than an opening and such an atmosphere seems to have the opposite affect on my mind. I have the time, at least over the Chuseok holidays to just be.

So, in my being, I miss my parents. Last year’s vacation was one not to be forgotten though I do hope to have many more chances to play host to them in the future. I also miss fall in Canada – crazy as it can be, weather-wise. To me it was always an excuse to stay home and be with family – hockey season starting, holidays a turn of the calendar away, and (let’s be honest) for people such as myself, Christmas season notifying its return at the first change of weather.

I’m not quite there yet in Seoul, but I am enjoying these days when I can take them. This past Saturday, I rode my bike for two hours from up North to the Han River south of Sinchon Rotary, across the Seogang Bridge, and on to Yeuido Island where I am teaching my new High School Critical Reading and Writing class (much more on that later). I wish I had a helmet-mounted camera to show folks back home what I saw – the city of Seoul on a clear and sunny day, from the North mountains, across the river to the financial center. Busy streets, but emptier than usual because of Chuseok. Times like this I know that I am very lucky to live here as I do – doing a job that I rediscovering my love for, and having the freedom to explore the city as I do. I’m not always a dire and complaining grumpy-pants. I still don’t consider myself to be a “big city” person, at least in terms of having to choose between that label or the one of a “small town” person, but I am grateful for how comfortable I have become here, and how I have been able to find new ways to enjoy the city.

A friend who recently left after 6 years in Korea remarked upon her return to Seattle how she missed the regularity of the seasonal changes in Seoul – particularly the fall, with the prices of certain fruits in the Home Plus, the horrid smell of the ginko nuts crushed on the sidewalks, and how empty the city is through the week of Chuseok – less hustle on the subways, and everyone just slowing-down a bit more. Makes it feel lore like home.

That’s where I’m at. I’ll be trying to write more through the week, and I will get to my new high school class, which has kind of been a much needed game-changer for me over the past month. But these are some other things I’ve been meaning to write about:

Music: Nothing unique or bold in saying this, but I love the Arcade Fire’s latest album, Suburbs. It’s constantly in short rotation on my ipod, and it may be their best album yet. Even songs I was luke-warm on at first, have since become favourites (“Modern Man” being a strong example). Win Butler’s voice seems to have matured or gained more control and it’s welcome for these songs. There’s even some borrowing from Devotchka on a track or two, and I don’t mind it one bit. The song, as all of their past ones have done, make me think of home as well as the city I live in now. There is no better current soundtrack for cycling through Seoul. I’m not one for experimenting with too much new music, and I don’t really take the time to seek it out, but it’s nice when one you had huge expectations for exceeds them with an exclamation point.

Also, I’ll be taking the rabbit to Rufus Wainwright’s first concert appearance in Seoul. It will be happening on October 10th at the AX Hall, which should make for a nice, intimate venue. I’ll add Rufus to the growing line-up of great concerts I will have enjoyed since moving here and I don’t mind pouring all of my monthly entertainment budget into one show if I know I’m paying to see a true artist play for an appreciative crowd.

Movies: I decided to reacquaint myself with the works of Hayao Miyazaki (as you can see by the pictures posted above) in recent weeks as well. It’s been years since I’ve seen My Neighbor, Totoro, and I hadn’t made it to the theatre to see Spirited Away when it was released back in Canada. Watching the Japanese animated classics dubbed into Korean with English subtitles was a treat for the rabbit and I. Love Disney and Pixar as I do, you would be hard-pressed to find more thoughtful or creative animated story-telling than the moment when Totoro appears with a leaf on his head to wait for the Cat Bus, or when the Stink Spirit shows-up at the bath house in Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen these things, your mind will open when you do. I wish I could sit and watch Totoro with my oldest nephew, who I predict would have the patience and imagination to really appreciate what's going on with the story.

I also got the chance to check-out The Kids are all Right – a film I’ve been wanting to see for a while and was surprised to find playing here in Korea, being that it centers around a female gay couple with two children. There was a lot to love about the movie, though I was a bit surprised by how much of it I found off-putting – not the gay element, but the playing of an affair at least in part for laughs. This is a directorial choice, and one I couldn’t get behind (pardon the pun). Otherwise, a fantastic movie about normal people. Oscar will come calling in February.

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