Monday, December 12, 2011

You Can Plan On Me

University wrapped-up on Friday with some unit planning time, a gift exchange, and a pot-luck. The weekend was all about reading, packing, and Catan with friends. I'm now sitting at the airport, waiting to board my flight home to Calgary. I have been ready to go for a while, but not before I took my Bromptom for one more festive trip around the seawall last night. I'll be home for Christmas... and I don't get to say that very often.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas in Vancouver

I had a pretty relaxing weekend. I even made a point of napping twice on a Sunday - because dammit, it's Sunday, and I won't be having too many relaxing days anytime soon. I'm trying my best to economize my rest.

In the last two weeks, my room mate and I have taken advantage of some of the holiday merriment that the city of Vancouver has to offer. I'm off to Calgary in just over a week, and I wanted to make sure that I sample what I can before leaving the west coast.

The first was the 2nd annual Vancouver Christmas Market - also known as the German Christmas Market, likely because it appears to be entirely peopled by Germans - except for Arturo, a Peruvian gentleman who was at one of the booths selling his fair trade coffee. I bought a bag of beans from Arturo and he was happy to point out that each biodegradable bag was adorned with a decoration hand-painted by his wife. I chose one with a lovely colored ornament for the tree and told Arturo that every time I looked at the ornament, I would think of his wife. Arturo and I thought that a completely fine comment to make, but my friends thought it was weird. Awkwardness ensued, but now I have a nice bag of fair trade beans for a gift exchange on Friday.

The market itself I would imagine is usually a lot more lively than it was on the day we went: Saturday before the Grey Cup, rainy, and with the market opting out of liquor service for the night for fear that German Grey Cup revelers would overtake the carousel and start another riot. The market was okay. It could have been better. I say this for two reasons:

1) It's expensive. There is a $5 cost to even get into the thing and what one can buy inside is mostly far too expensive for a "day at the craft sale" kind of feel. Granted, most of what's available is actually hand-made and imported from the German, Austrian, and Swiss artisans who are there to sell. There are plenty of food booths as well, and if you're up for it, on busy days there is reportedly a pig roasting on a spit. How Christmassy. Anyway, a family of 4 would be looking at $20 for entry, $12 for a carousel ride, $40 for food, and a significant amount of money for any of the wooden, metal, or blown-glass ornaments available for sale. There really doesn't appear to be a cheap way to experience the market.

2) Okay, there's only one reason. This place would actually be a pretty nice place for a unique Christmas date. The market is erected each year on an empty paved lot beside the Queen Elizabeth theatre downtown, and the theatre has December offerings of Sting, The Canadian Tenors, and the Nutcracker. Just bring lots of money.

That was last weekend. This weekend was the real treat: the "Bright Nights in Vancouver Stanley Park Christmas Train". Maria and I made an evening out of it with two friends. Dinner, coffee and Catan, and then a stroll over to Stanley Park for a walk through crazy lighted displays and a ride on the miniature railway.

Free entrance to the park (with a donation to the firefighter's burn unit) and $11.75 for the train ticket. Totally worth it. This runs from December 1st until the 2nd of January.

The lands surrounding the railway are completely decked-out with a ridiculous amount of lights and Christmas decor. It's fairly chaotic in terms of theme and style, and it looks as though Davie Hogan chowed-down on every Rankin-Bass Christmas special and vomited all over Stanley Park's Rose Garden. I really mean this in a good way. Pictures wouldn't do it justice, but just walking around there creates the illusion that one is in a Christmas special of one's own making.

Tickets for the train are sold half through ticket-master in advance, and half at the park after 12:00 noon on the day of. It's solidly packed - early evening kid-friendly train times going first. We managed to get tickets for the 9:30 departure. With three trains running on the track, the lines move pretty quickly, and you only need to line-up for your 30 minute window to get the train. Didn't see any issues here.

The ride itself was pretty fantastic. Honestly, in terms of Christmas glee, I'm pretty sure that, for my two young nephews, this would have blown away anything Disneyland would have to offer - certainly not in terms of imagineering quality, but in terms of holly-jolliness, this is pretty tough to beat. The miniature trains (20 gauge tracks with guests seated two across) runs through the tall tree forests of Stanley Park, past lit displays over water, through tunnels, and back around again for a new perspective on things. The ride took about 10-12 minutes from what I can recall. There is a great deal of thought put into the displays and the music (piped into the overhead speakers in each mini train car) really adds to the effect.

The ride begins with Mr. Crosby's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and then switches gears into Mahalia Jackson's "Go Tell it On the Mountain" for those who prefer a more non-secular approach to Christmas as the trains leads through choir dioramas and nativity scenes in the trees. The train rounds a bend and we can see dry ice billowing from underneath a facade of the Polar Express while light shines from the open engine door and head light. The conductor (on stilts) marches out to dance and salute the train which slows down for the pass - the music from the film really added to this sequence.

I could go on, but it's enough to say that it was pretty dang festive. My nephews, and specifically my train-loving dad would have gone absolutely crazy on this - the most Christmassy train ride I've ever been on. The sequence when the train runs over a short trestle bridge and across a pond is just ridiculous - the lights reflected on the water are something to see.

I found myself wishing that my family and my rabbit could have been there with me, and I found myself somehow not surprised to notice that, as the lingering odors revealed, some people want to heighten the experience of the Stanley Park Christmas Train even further with the addition of some genuine B.C. bud. Roasted chestnuts and organic popcorn are on hand for anyone who develops the munchies.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Waiting Room

Finished watching Twin Peaks tonight. It was the 5th time that I have watched the entire series. I may have mentioned this before, but living on the west coast, if one ever was a Twin Peaks fan, it's easy to get sucked back into that world when one's daily setting is as inviting as this. I am hopeful that some friends of mine might be interested in a Spring journey to some key areas in Washington State where we might be able to see a few key sites, just for poops and ha-has: the falls, the Great Northern, and the log on the beach where Laura's body was found wrapped in plastic - just to name a few.

So, once again I say goodbye to characters I know and love and I watch as two enter into the waiting room before going through the black lodge and hoping to ascend to the white lodge and I feel, through my experience thus far as a student teacher having finished two short practicums and regrouping before moving on to my third, that I too am in the waiting room in a sense. There are people around me who seem to speak in tongues, the coffee sometimes clots, and strange people seem to come at me screaming from behind couches while I do my best to focus on why I crossed the threshold in the first place.

I'm going to take some time, and it will be valuable, and I need to brush my teeth.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Last Month of the Year

And in the spirit of the season, a descriptive paragraph from a grade 9 student. The focus was to be on sensory words to describe a thing, a moment, a person, or whatever one might feel strongly about...

A Snow Day

The sight of snow causes me to go on a rampage, swiftly diving into the snow, knowing I would make a show. No matter if I collapse into a frenzy as long as it occurs on a snow day. I would dance and fall on my face, eat the snow on the way. Construct a snowman with the spirit I have. Then when the wind would take initiative I would feel the snow dashing on my face. The snow melting and being absorbed, forming a smile on my face. Suddenly, getting hit by a snowball which cleanses and glorifies that smile I wear. I am aware of the smell of the air. It is of an ocean's breeze. I am ready to be enchanted by the visually spectacular winter and of snow's grace.

Writing is sometimes about taking risks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Before I dig-in...

Today is the last "free" day before I dive into my second 3 week practicum, which will be centered around 4 consecutive full days of teaching as per the structure of SFU's student teacher program.

Again, I'm reluctant to say much about the school, itself - at least in part a result of the increased privacy issues in place here in Canada. However, I'll be happy to comment from time to time about certain lessons and how things go with their implementation. The next three weeks will be a challenge, and I'm going to do my best to be mindful of the fact that I work with three different sponsor teachers - each of whom have their own unique set of styles and expectations. Yours, truly is going to need to check himself not only each day, but with each period when I change rooms.

I will be teaching the following schedule, with each period lasting for 74 minutes:

Day 1
Period 1 - (No class)
Period 2 - English 10A
Period 3 - Resource Room (for struggling students)
Period 4 - Communications 11/12

Day 2

Period 1 - ESL Senior 4
Period 2 - English 9A
Period 3 - English 9B
Period 4 - English 10B

The days alternate one after the other, and it adds-up to four different classes to prep for as My English 9 and English 10 repeat.

I'm excited to get back into the school, and a bit nervous about meeting expectations for lesson-planning, but the more I get on top of with the next three weeks, the better off I'll be when the long spring practicum comes along - I'm going to need the best head start I can manage.

Met Collins for breakfast this morning, realized how lucky I am to have had three visitors to Vancouver already. Good friends and family will make for a very special holiday coming up in Calgary, though I plan on getting the most out of my holiday time in Vancouver as well. There is a Christmas tree that's lit-up each night in the middle of the Lost Lagoon as one enters Stanley Park. That'll be nice, and I'll be sure to get some pictures.

Further to that...

Reprinted without permission from Slate Magazine (Sunday, November 13th, 2011)

Because Our Fathers Lied: Remembering our veterans and reflecting on the glorious ambiguity of Rudyard Kipling's war poetry
- By Christopher Hitchens

I spent much of this weekend, as I often do this time of year, confining myself to writing and thinking about Rudyard Kipling. This may seem like a pretentious thing to be saying, but if you care about war and peace and justice and life and death, then he is an inescapable subject. The same is true if you care about modern English literature, which for no less inescapable reasons is intimately bound up with the great catastrophe of mortality that overcame British families between August 1914 and November 1918.

There had probably never been such a race for a society to get itself involved in the battle for a perceived moral superiority. Great swaths of young men saw their honor, and huge groups of young girls their virtue, involved in the defense of Belgium against the rape of German imperialism. As a result, a huge and successful post-Victorian people found itself nearly decimated, with a special emphasis on the slaughter of its youth of child-bearing age. And Kipling himself, the man who brought us The Jungle Book and many a school yarn, was desolate because he did not have a real son to lend, or to give, to the fight.

Pay attention when people make use of those terms, about “giving” or “losing” your life in wartime. Often, we have only the uncorroborated word of the losers that that is what they did. Either their lives were offered and accepted—this being the great act of sacrifice and solidarity honored since Pericles and the Gettysburg Address—or they were ruthlessly snatched away. In which latter case we have only the word of the generals and the kings and the politicians that this was indeed a legitimate deal. That, also, would be rather more like an accident.

Whereas the last alternative, almost too grim to reflect upon, would be that of deliberate theft. In this scenario we encounter cannon fodder, fiddled casualty figures, falsified statistics and all the cynicism of wartime manipulation and propaganda. And again, nobody is on hand to represent the words of the victim. That is what happened to young John Kipling when he was posted “missing” at the end of one of the fiercest early battles of the First World War. His father Rudyard, upset that the boy was disqualified for the military because of his poor eyesight, had in effect smuggled him through customs so as to pass the minimal regulations. His agony, therefore, as to having effectively cheated his boy into vanishing in the trenches, can only be dimly guessed at.

Young John wasn’t properly identified until the 1990s; a dreadful fact about hundreds of thousands of young British men of that epoch who still have not been bagged or tagged from the ditches and drains of the areas of Flanders and Picardy where the supreme sacrifice—another term to watch out for—was actually carried out in those sanguinary years. I wrote about the exhumation, and it seems that he was horribly injured and perhaps blinded toward the end. As a kind of atonement, his father agreed to write the official history of his son’s Irish regiment and also to help design the official memorial to that strange idea, “The Unknown Soldier.” Unknown to whom?

Even as Kipling was repressing his doubts about the nature of the war and the death of his only son, there was a sort of revolution of poets at the other end of the country. In a mental hospital in Scotland were confined, because of their opposition to the war and their “battle fatigue,” men of the stature of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Just contrast what Kipling and Owen wrote. I’ll first cite Kipling:

Our statecraft, our learning,

Delivered them bound to the pit and alive to the burning

Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honor.

Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her!

… But who shall return us our children?

Wilfred Owen decided to rework the ancient Bible story of the binding and killing of Isaac by his father Abraham. If you recall, Abraham listened to his god’s instructions and carried them out until the last moment, whereupon an angel called him out of heaven, telling him to “offer the ram of pride instead” of Isaac. In Owen’s poem, the action follows this form until the angel makes an appearance. At this point, old man Abraham turns remorseless:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son.

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Reading them today, it is surprising how closely the two poems converge. In both cases, fathers grieve in different ways over the slaughter of their sons. They also brood over the paternal responsibility for the bloodletting. This introduces elements of ambiguity into the reflection.

Last week, some mediocre California mayoress announced that she wasn’t going to attend a Veterans Day event in her city of Richmond. Gayle McLaughlin, in fact, was down with the “Occupy” guys and gals instead. You can easily picture the response she got: the city of Richmond insulted, along with the memory of its brave men and women in uniform. Indeed, there might not even be a Richmond if not for those unforgettable volunteers. But if this were true, then the writing of history would always be simple. So would the composition of morality stories. Both Kipling and Owen came to the conclusion that too many lives had been “taken” rather than offered or accepted, and that too many bureaucrats had complacently accepted the sacrifice as if they themselves had earned it.

And this has made a lot of difference. It means, for example, that each case needs to be argued on its own merits. I am convinced that the contingents who went to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, though badly led on a scale almost equal to that of 1914 to 1918, are to be praised and supported. But I take no comfort from the idea that this should be an official position. I must say I think that La McLaughlin expressed herself with awful casualness (because Nov. 11 is, after all, truly—still—a solemn day on the calendar). But it’s still more important on such a day to discuss dissent, and to reflect on whether it might have been your own enemy, or your deeply mistaken father, who brought you bound to the pit and alive to the burning.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

I realized, just this morning, that I hadn't attended a proper Remembrance Day ceremony since 2006. Each November since that time had been spent in Korea or Thailand, and there's either too much Pepero or too much Beer Laos in those locales to focus on what the day really means back in Canada.

I was pleased the last two years when teaching in Korea however, when I was able to implement a pretty cool poetry lesson using Jon McCrae's famous poem "In Flanders Fields". It was sobering for the vast majority of the students to recognize that British Commonwealth countries recognize their war dead in such a way. The lesson really worked, and it was nice to note that I was able to collect a great deal of Pepero on the day: students who brought me Pepero on November 11th got a Canadian flag pin in return. I was rolling in Pepero for weeks afterward.

Anyway, I was glad to head down to Victory Square this morning to take in my first Vancouver Remembrance Day ceremony and my first one on Canadian soil in half a decade. There was a great turn-out on a soggy grassy hillside - the rain which had stopped before the ceremony had already had its way with the green space.

It was a beautiful ceremony - what always gets to me the most, among the songs, readings, and wreath-layings, is "Flowers of the Forest", the Scottish Lament - and the silence that precedes and follows it.

It's also interesting to see how people react to the day - from a myriad of personal places of hurt, sadness, gratefulness, or anger. At today's ceremony, a woman waved a Canadian flag from an open window that looked down on the parade below. Her sign called for an end to the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, and she became vocal - with tangible sadness in her voice. Not knowing her, or the place her emotion came from, I can only sit back and respect both her, and the people marching below who fought to maintain a country where she has the right to speak her mind.

When soldiers themselves can be in support of or rally in protest against their wars, it's clear that nobody - not even one directly involved - can have a monopoly on appropriate response. Looking at the variety of those laying wreaths, I see the day being about those who were lost; those who have worn a uniform and survive to continue to do so; and those who have watched others deploy and never come back. There's just something in me that reminds me that I have no right to tell Cindy Sheehan or Richard Tillman to keep their mouths shut - especially on Remembrance or Veteran's Day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sea Wall after Sunset

Had a great weekend - Saturday at the aquarium with friends and a flower girl, and then today I headed downtown with my extra hour of daylight savings time and bought some Christmas cards.

I know, it's not even Remembrance Day yet, but it is chilly enough, and it's after Halloween, so it's more than appropriate to find a festive Starbucks, sit down with a pen, and think about people who aren't here.

The other thing I like about Starbucks is the feeling that regardless of where one is in the world, all Starbucks are pretty much the same. For North American ex-pats, it's a touchstone of sorts - a place to feel "normal" when everything around you can feel different. I know that it's sad that it sometimes takes a large corporation to bring this feeling about, but it is what it is.

Anyway, today - with all of the cold and Christmas action around me (music and blend, I mean), I felt as though I could just walk out of Starbucks and into Samcheong-dong or Myeong-dong and meet my friends who would be waiting for me with Santa hats and songbooks, all ready for some caroling along the Cheonggye-cheon.

Anyway, it was then onto my bike and I thought, even though the sun was down, I could still get a decent ride in. With the hub dynamo lighting, I'm good to go on the Stanley Park sea wall, even when the only other sources of light are the moon or the lights along the Lions Gate Bridge when it comes into view.

It was truly awesome. I think I'll be doing the wall at night more often, and if tonight was any indicator, I'm not the only one to have that thought. There were quiet places on the NW section though where all I could hear were waves lapping the shore and weird cooing/clicking sounds from roaming raccoons.

A fine weekend - topped off with a Flames victory, and Stephanie was good enough to take my Jonas Hiller for her Kiprusoff - so now I can feel really good whenever Peter puts one in the win column.

PS - I didn't bring my camera with me, so I borrowed this photo from Northwest Photography here in Vancouver. Check it out - for all of your Vancouver photography needs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Take Shelter

I haven't seen it yet, but I'm thinking I'm going to love it. Heading to Granville for an early evening showing with the Boyce. Michael Shannon is the kind of actor who will bring me out of the house to the most obscure film. I've got me some high expectations here, but wanted to wait until the right time to see this one. Before I wrote my mid-term was not the time to see a movie this intense. I'll try to write a review at some point this week.

Just a quick update is all I have time for. My first three week practicum is at an end. It was great for the most part. I was pleased to be able to teach two entire class lessons (74 minutes) as opposed to the recommended 20 minute "mini-lessons" we were encouraged to do during this initial stage. I was asked to teach the next literary element in a line that began with short story plot structure and will end somewhere down the line with theme. My assigned element was narrative point of view, which I won't get into deeply here except to say that it was surprising how bloody confused I can be with the terminology when I've been away from it at a distance for as long as I have. Anyway, pulling a myriad of ideas together to one lesson ended-up being quite the treat for me. For whatever reason, when I began with piecing the lesson together, I came across the 2nd trailer for Speilberg's upcoming Christmas Day release, War Horse. My lesson ended-up using the 1982 novel (which I snapped-up at Chapters to prepare for the lesson) and bridging it to the film through an examination of the 2010 West End production of the story on stage.

Of course, we did spend a fair portion of the lesson reaffirming the 4 selected main forms of POV as outlined in their text, while at the same time reminding ourselves that rarely is one form followed in its purest sense through an entire text. It's amazing the things one can discover when planning a lesson. The War Horse examples ended-up book-ending the lesson really effectively while the text exploration portion of the lesson ended-up being really engaging and generated some in-depth discussion among myself and the students - citing everything from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones (Third Person Limited and Third Person Multiple) to Inception, which showed differing colours depending on whether we considered the film on screen or on the printed page in screenplay form. Anyway, it was fun to nerd-out about it all and I was grateful to have the opportunity to teach the lesson in consecutive days so that I could fix what needed it.

Anyway, glad to be back at campus up on the mountain. I crave the level of discourse there, and I feed off of the discussions generated by the people in that room. I have missed university. Nerd.

I was also lucky enough to celebrate my sister's birthday this past weekend when she came out to explore the city on the coast. It's going to get harder and harder to leave Canada next year.

In other news, while waiting for my colleague to gather her bike parked at Pigeonland near Burrard Station late last week, two gentlemen (I base this on their manner and their state of dress) came up to me all friendly-like and asked inquired with the following:

"Um... excuse me... my friend and I were debating how old you are, because there are some aspects of you that are old and others that aren't." (This is world-for-word).
"Ahhh... how old do you think I am?"
"I say 27, but my friend says 23."
"I'm 35."
"So... looks like 27 is the big winner."

And that was that. You know, there was a time when I - a man with nothing approaching a 4:00 shadow - could at least revel in the fact that heart-throbs of the day (Titanic Leo and Order of the Phoenix Daniel Radcliffe) were as baby-faced as I. We can't all be Colin Farrell. But now Leo's gone all The Departed and Radcliffe's gone all Woman in Black and I'm left here looking like a guy who is 20 years away from looking like James Cromwell in Babe.

Oh, well - you know who else still has a baby face? The son of Jor-El, that's who!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Friendlies on the train

Holy Dinah - I'm tired. Today marks the last day of this first portion of my first in-school practicum where our focus has been mainly to observe different types of classes. My university chum and I have been visiting many classes - never repeating - and have for the most part been witness to some very cool and very inspired education.

I want to focus on that last word because I've been reminded daily about it's importance. I was also reminded of the importance of defining it properly: through an anecdote delivered by one of our faculty associates at SFU, we were reminded of Christy Clark, British Columbia's Premiere, when she spoke in defense of the cutting of higher education funding suggesting that "skill-acquisition, training, and education are all essentially the same thing." Our faculty associate suggested how cathartic it would have been to have had someone inquire of Ms. Clark right then and there if she would prefer to have her daughter receive from her public schooling, sex skills, sex training, or sex education.

Point is, there is a difference, and a lot of what I've seen has given me great pause when it comes to my approach and shifting views as I go through this year-long program. I graduated high school in 1993. I didn't love all of it, but I was comfortable enough in school. I managed it - what it was then - and made it what I needed it to be. But I couldn't get away with that level of avoidance in high school today. Teachers have been re-taught and as a result everything has been re-thought. They simply don't teach the same way anymore. I like this, but at 35 I'm feeling like a bit of a dinosaur again. 18 years is enough time for paradigm shifts to take place and take root. As Joey Lawrence (or is it Joey Lucas) would say, "woah!"

Anyway, wanted to say that last night I had a chance to meet-up with my friend, Michael, who - along with his wife, Sandra, joined me for a showing of 50/50. It was very good. There was a moment of romantic longing in this film (which also deals with rare spinal cancer and male genital grooming) that ranks right up there with Bill Murray holding Scarlett Johansson's foot in the Park Hyatt, Tokyo. Just awesome stuff, Ms. Anna Kendrick. Thanks for that.

Then off on the train to make my way home to complete a crafty task and while on the way home I bare witness to a sea of disgruntled Canucks fans who gave-up on the late 3rd period 3-0 score VS the Rangers. A nice, older couple in matching Kesler jerseys stands in front of me and I politely inquire as to the score of the game. We strike-up a conversation and I reveal that I'm actually from Calgary - a fact they visibly bristle at - but it becomes playful right away. They have a great deal of respect for Iginla. Well, of course they do. They offer me a memorial program from the Rick Rypien tribute before the game and we eventually get to revealing that I'm here for school, she's a Simon Fraser graduate and a recently retired teacher. Glad to have asked the score and regretful that I'm getting off the train only three stations away.

Nice people, these Canucks fans. THESE Canucks fans.

And still thinking about that phone-call from the car. Go see 50/50.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cambie Irregular

Finished our first week of practicum tonight. Gathered at The Cambie pub just outside of Gastown with other student teachers to celebrate and shoot the shite.

The Cambie is a hole, a block away from the Worst Neighbourhood in North America, and the only reason to go there is because it's 3 blocks from Waterfront Skytrain station and because the pitchers are $12, which is about as cheap as it gets in Canada.

There were about 20 of us there tonight, and it was a good time - time to regroup and time to check-in and see how everyone's doing thus far.

We are all in our teacher gear - mine consisting of the unapologetic sweater vest and collared shirt.

I make my way to the men's washroom, which previously looked a lot like what you see in the photo below. You can see the rusting communal waterfall urinal situation they had going on for some time, but what you can't see are the blocked toilets in stalls with half-doors so as to prevent dudes from shooting heroin on the premises.

Well, it's all changed. Gone is the graffiti, the rusty spots beside the urinal, and the possibility of users cluttering-up the stalls, all because The Cambie has installed two important deterrents: beefy bouncers at the front door, and kind warning signs saying that people who report graffiti or damage in the rest rooms will get their bar tab taken care of... or something like that.

So, sweater vest and all, I head into the restroom which now sports tiled walls, new marble sinks, and an imposing stainless steel waterfall for the new urinal, and I assume my place at the far left end of the peeing wall. Two Cambie regulars come in and take-up their place beside me. The "Cambie regular" can be recognized as one with a bandanna, a leather jacket, heroin tracks, a goatee on a wizened skeletal visage, or any combination of the above.

So, while nervously releasing, I notice Cambie regular to my right nudge his friend, motion with his head toward me, and say "That guy's the reason we got these new pissers..."

Perhaps it really was an army of bookish and plaid-clad teacher types who marched en masse to the Cambie to demand better conditions for making water, but more likely it was just the fact that when one operates a beer-serving establishment, and one serves it cheaply enough to force one's customer base to empty their bladders almost every 30 minutes on a good night, one shouldn't force them to cross into the 9th circle of hell to do what comes naturally. We're not animals, man.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is it a bird?

There is a tiny tweeting thing that has it's tweeting fun somewhere in the ceiling of my room after the sun goes down. I have no idea what the hell it is, but I need to bring the upstairs folk down one of these nights so that they can hear what it is I'm hearing. It's two short tweets, it sounds like a bird, but it can't be. It's not a bat, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, I'm hoping it shuts-up soonish.

Today was the third day of my early practicum in a school that I haven't decided if I should name yet. I'm not sure how easily I want this blog to be found through a basic Google search is all.

But what i have to say can only be glowingly positive so far. I'm journaling a lot about this stuff for university purposes, but I will say here that I'm astounded by two things at this school: 1) The amount of respect the students and teachers show each other, and 2) the extreme high quality of the teachers that have formed a community in the school.

I have observed, since Tuesday, 11 different classes with 11 different teachers. I'm getting "the lay of the land", and the land has been laid well, as it were. I watched an English teacher give a 74 minute lesson (that's how long classes are at this school, by the way) and the students were completely engaged, challenged, and inspired throughout. I know this because each of them responded to the teacher and to each other throughout. The students' unique definitions what "A poem is..." would make you weep for how shabby your own creative writing experience might have been in high school. Dang - these kids be lucky.

The teachers all view their practice as a continually growing and evolving thing. These are the kind of people that don't just line their bookshelves with impressive titles - they READ THEM and APPLY THEM in the classroom. If there are master teachers in the world, the staff at __________ secondary school are doing their darndest to increase the population of such fine folk. I'm going to learn a great deal and I have a long way to go. This, I think, will be my mantra - not just for the completion of the program, but for the rest of the time I'll be a teacher.

More about that later... but for now, let me share with you that I decided to ride my bike home from school today - well, mostly home anyway. I cruised from the far south of Richmond, East to Railway Avenue, then North past the airport and across the Arthur Laing Bridge to the southern beginnings of Granville, then followed that for a loooong time North through downtown and to the Waterfront where I ate my two $2 pieces of pizza by Canada Place and thought how cool it was that I live here for now, how cool it is that I'm becoming a teacher, how cool it is that I'm going to have my sister out here visiting at the end of the month, and how cool it is that I'm going to have the best holiday this year - how's that for expectations? What can I say? I was feeling positive.

Just wanted to add as a foot note that there are a lot of ridiculously beautiful homes in the West End of Vancouver - most notably off Granville in a neighbourhood called Shawnessy - not to be confused with the strip-mall laden suburb in South Calgary. I checked on MLS, and while there are some fine homes available in the area for between 1 and 2 million, you can really break the bank on something like this for a mere 23 million.

There are some gargantuan mansions that have been newly built in the area, but my best 5-8 million would be spent on one of the original homes with a bit more character - like the one below. Huh... so that's how some people live.

Monday, October 10, 2011

PDPool - We are Ready!

Hanging-out at home on a rainy Thanksgiving Monday and listening to the Flames game on The Fan 960 on the internet. Gotta say, and doing my best to ignore any potential bias, I truly think that the Calgary commentators and especially Mr. Maher make the folks on Vancouver sports radio look like the biggest group of ass-clown homers. If you disagree, listen to a Flames radio broadcast and then hear what Rob Kerr does with his new role as Flames play-by-play guy on the Sportsnet broadcasts this year.

Anyway, in other hockey news, I am pleased to report that our program at Simon Fraser has launched our own hockey pool. There are a great many hockey fans at school and we were able to drum-up enough interest to have 13 of us (8 lads and 5 lasses) to run a 15-player draft.

We did a snaking draft of 9 forwards, 4 d-men, and 2 goalies. I decided to do the unthinkable and draft Crosbow 5th overall - get in the game, sir. For all you hockey fans, here are my picks... and I don't want to hear anything about my 4 Red Wings - I would have had 5 if someone hadn't gotten to Zetterberg first.

1. Sidney Crosby (F - Pittsburg)
2. Pavel Datsyuk (F - Detroit)
3. Dustin Byfuglien (D - Winnipeg)
4. Niklas Lidstrom (D - Detroit)
5. Jonathan Quick (G - Los Angeles)
6. Jonas Hiller (G - Anaheim)
7. PK Subban (D - Montreal)
8. Michael Cammalleri (F - Montreal)
9. Evander Kane (F - Winnipeg)
10. Johan Franzen (F - Detroit)
11. Kevin Bieksa (D - Vancouver)
12. Olli Jokinen (F - Calgary)
13. Rene Bourque (F - Calgary)
14. Chris Kunitz (F - Pittsburgh)
15. Tomas Holmstrom (F - Detroit)

So there it is. The season began on Thursday and I'm already in 12th place out of 13. Hurry up, Crosby!

Friday, September 30, 2011

In Vancouver

It's now been three weeks almost to the day since I arrived in Vancouver.

For those that don't know, I am here because I was accepted into the Faculty of Education's Professional Development Program at Simon Fraser University. There were other programs I was interested in, and even others that I maneuvered myself toward applying to in years past, but Simon Fraser seemed like the place for me for two main reasons:

1) It's a condensed one year program which allows me to return to Seoul in the late summer of 2012.

2) It's a program with a great reputation and one that a dear friend went through only a few years back with wonderful things to report.

I have to say that I consider myself very fortunate to be in the program. I'm humbled by it and by the people enrolled in it with me. I say this from the experience of having applied to 2 rather exclusive grad school programs (one in B.C. and one in New Brunswick) a few years ago and getting denied by both. I guess life takes you to a point where such things are finally possible.

I don't know how much I'll be saying in detail about the program, though I feel each day that I want to say a lot. It's only been three weeks on campus, but in that time, I can honestly say that I feel as though I know most of the 31 students and 2 professors much better than most friends, colleagues and teachers that I've known for years.

We've already become a tight-knit group, and dang - there be some very interesting people. There are 2 Natalies, 2 Stephanies, and 3 of us Daves. I am okay with being "Calgary Dave", there is also a "Vancouver Dave", and we are rounded-off by "Astro-Dave" who is significantly younger than I, yet only 2 years from obtaining his PhD in Astro Physics. Like I said, I'm humbled to be included in this program.

I don't want to say too much, also partly because I'm going to be journaling about program specifics in another format, but I will say that this is the most introspective group I remember being a part of. SFU really wants us to bring ourselves to our teaching. I think this is good. Each day feels like a gift to be able to head into school and engage with like-minded folk who just want to make education better, should we be so bold to aim for such lofty things.

The Simon Fraser Burnaby campus is located at the top of Burnaby Mountain, and on a clear day, one can see all the way back West toward Grouse Mountain and down into the Eastern part of Burrard Inlet. There was a notification on the university homepage the other day of a bear sighting on campus. So far, I have seen the following animals on campus:

a) Two deer behind the education building
b) A coyote crossing the road in front of the morning bus near the football field
c) A barn owl five feet from the road stretching its wings to take-off into the brush
d) A harbour seal (not on campus, but hiding between boats at Granville Island)

In winter time, the mountain top is nearly always shrouded in clouds, but I'll take the views while they're here. I've rocketed down the mountain hill at over 60km/hour on my Brompton a few times, but haven't yet garnered the energy to make it up the hill in the mornings. I might try it once on a non-school day just for poops and ha-has, but I think it might be best to leave the extreme mountain climbing on bikes to those with mountain bikes. Every day I watch guys on professional 28-speed road bikes climb the hill while standing in their lowest gear. I wonder if it would even be possible on my wee folder. A friend of mine has broken two chains already on his hybrid, so possibilities look grim.

I did manage though to take the bike out a couple of nights ago on a quick jaunt down to Stanley Park and the sea wall. I'm pleased to announce that from my house to Science World at the East end of False Creek is only 20 minutes by casual bike, and it's only 45 to English Bay via Burrard Street Bridge. I rode by the Lost Lagoon with a big fat grin on my face. I really want to make sure that I take advantage of my time in this city. I need to do my best to be by the ocean, to get in a kayak, and to climb some mountains.

Lots more to say, but for now it should suffice to report that I'm feeling lucky to live here, to attend this program, and to be taking the time needed to make this career a reality.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in Calgary

I'm actually in Vancouver, but before I write about good stuff like loving my university program, discovering that there are many rabid Catan fans in my class, and being able to ride from my house to the Stanley Park sea wall in about 40 minutes, I would like to first comment about my time in Calgary.

I won't spend too much time on this as this blog is mostly for family, and they don't need to read about themselves, but there are a few things I would like to mention...

1) My family is grand - I have to say it. I did get to see friends and I had some quality time with my sister and Jay - most notably on a killer camping trip to Montana - but I spent most of my time with mom, dad, and my nephews as my sister was often at work and that left the little people free to be dropped-off at mom and dad's place. I got to spend a lot of quality time as uncle Dave, and it really only took about 10 minutes of weird time with the boy's being shy at the airport for me to once again work my way into their hearts. I got to swim with the lads at Lake Bonavista and attend Christian's first day of grade 1. Milestones - I miss most, but make it there for some. I hear rumour that my sister might make it out to Vancouver for a visit at the end of October, and I'll be back in my hometown for Christmas and New Year's. It was a whirlwind visit, but not as crazy as others have been. Calgary felt like transition time for me this visit - not rushing to head back to Korea, and knowing that it'll only be a matter of months before I see family again. It's a good feeling. Vancouver is not so far, but it was far enough for my parents to do a road-trip with me with a one-night stop-over on the way out to the coast. Look at me - I'm a 35 year-old college kid. How about that?

2) I feel like I've truly left my old life. I hate the term "growing out of...", and that's actually not how I feel, so conveniently, I don't need to use it. That being said, I have grown-away from some things that had previously been a huge part of my life, and I'm happy to report that it feels okay. The big sign for this was attending the CAT-Awards as emcee. The CAT Awards recognize excellence in non-equity theatre in Calgary. I had been a big part of that community for years leading up to my departure, and my (largely involuntary) involvement in the awards before 2008 had led to me being a bit of a punchline in years when I was absent. It was with honour and humility that I agreed to emcee the awards at the request of the board. I had a great night, I think most of my material went over well, and I was very happy to see some dear friends and other deserving colleagues recognized through the awards process. It was a very special evening in that regard. Sadly, I also witnessed the disappointment of watching some of the community members turn on each other. I didn't know that awards shows could draw such ire from those who aren't recognized as much as they think they should be through the process, but the next morning, there were a lot of bitter folk in full-on rant mode. By this logic, Martin Scorcese might have also been one pissed-off Italian from approximately 1981 until 2007. What the hell, man? Get over yourself, be happy for others, recognize the celebratory purpose of such events. It really is that simple. But as it is, such displays left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, and ironically lead me to close-off memories and feelings toward my time in theatre to the point that I really only hold onto the very best of the good. That's the way it should be, I suppose - and there is lots of good. I am grateful for my time, but I don't miss it. I've packed-up my tent. The arts invites interesting egos. In this case, "interesting" is a euphemism.

And that was Calgary this time. There was mostly good and significant amounts of great. It still feels like my home, but in that I'm defining the contents of home in much more selective terms. That feels nice, too.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Air Canada

I'm thinking that before I begin blogging about my Vancouver life so far, it would make a lot more sense to first make mention of my time in Calgary - my hometown, the place where I was born, and all that jazz.

I'll start by saying that I was really only there for under two weeks. I arrived on a Thursday, and by Saturday... wait, first, let me tell you about Air Canada...

What can I tell you about Air Canada? Air Canada is cheaper than most other reasonable airlines that make the flight from Seoul to Vancouver to Calgary. There are cheaper ways, but they usually involve flying on some airline that employs out-of-date craft and requires travelers to change planes in five locales with a collective stop-over time of nearly 36 hours. Being that I wanted to get to Canada in reasonable time, and being that I wanted to bring my folding bike with me for the year and didn't want to have it thrown-about among various airlines, I went with Air Canada.

Air Canada, once one has traveled on just about any other airline, in comparison kind of sucks. I know it makes me sound like an ass to complain about being able to fly as far as I recently did in such a short amount of time, but man, as left as I might lean, the affect that airline unions have had on that airline is noticeable and regrettable to put it kindly. I actually admire and commend Air Canada for allowing less-than-runway-quality physical specimens to put on the attendant uniforms for many decades, but I don't like how it seems permissible for attendants to A) treat ESL speakers as less than human, or B) react to the following situation in the following way: when I was offered a choice of roast beef (only one choice) and I inquired if it might be possible to have some sort of vegetarian dish - even simply more salad - because when my girlfriend booked the tickets, she forgot to mention the special meal request, I was told that I should "train" my girlfriend better next time.

It's not those collective experiences among others though that make me want to write complaint letters, but rather the treatment I received regarding the transportation of my bike. Let me do this in point form...

- My Bromptom folds-up to a suitable size for regular checked baggage. I purchased a soft-sided transport bag from Velofix, a bag recommended to me by the boys at Biclo bike shop in Seoul. By all accounts, this is the best way to transport the Brompton as it's light, and you can transport clothes along with the bike by folding the clothes into sturdy plastic bags to act as padding. My bike was padded to the extreme by the time the zipper was done-up.

- Air Canada charges an additional $100 for an over-sized or overweight check-in bag. They charge $225 for an additional piece of luggage. This was not communicated to me clearly when I spoke with the representative for Air Canada at the Incheon Airport from Seoul. When I arrived, I paid $225 when I had expected to be paying $100.

- In addition to the $225, I was told that I needed to pay an additional $55 to mark it as "fragile" and to have it be treated as a bike - handled with more care and placed into the special baggage area with skis, guitars, and the like. Before I even got on the plane, I was paying an extra $280 to transport my bike.

- To my surprise, upon arriving in Vancouver, after waiting by the special baggage claim area for over 30 minutes after making my way through customs, my bike never turned up. I made my way over to the regular baggage carousel and there it was - my bike rotating around with the rest of the suitcases - the "fragile" stickers partially ripped but still on the bag.

- I then took the bike through the Canada transfer hallway where I spoke with an Air Canada employee about what had happened. He apologized profusely, threw another 3 "fragile" stickers on the bag, and assured me that the bag would be handled properly on its way to Calgary.

- As I was sitting in my window seat in Vancouver waiting for the plain to load, the luggage truck came careening toward the plain and made a hasty hair-pin turn by the conveyor belt. Guess what went flying off of the truck. The luggage clowns grabbed my bike from the tarmac and threw it ("fragile" stickers efficiently visible) onto the conveyor belt.

- Imagine how pissed off I was on the flight home.

- When I arrived in Calgary, my bike had once again been placed in regular baggage. I immediately went to the Air Canada's baggage area at Calgary International and told them my tales of woe. They wanted me to open the bike in front of them, which I did to reveal that a closing clasp had snapped in half, and the rear wheel when folded out had been whacked out of line. I'm pretty sure that there had to have also been some unnecessary stresses put on the joints.

- The bike has been fixed (thanks to Bike Bike) in Calgary and at minimal cost, but a cost nevertheless.

- I am in the process of requesting a refund from Air Canada. Specifically, I want to ask that I get my $55 "special treatment" fee back from the airline because, man - if that's special, I would hate to think what would have happened had it not been marked with bright red "fragile" stickers. I think we all know the answer - "fragile" stickers read as "throw" to the people who are most responsible for reading them.

- I'll keep you posted on what happens, but I'm not hopeful. When this airline strikes, I'm going to have a hard time being on the side of the employees. Just sayin'.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Leaving Seoul

Again - it's been a while. But let me begin this update with an admission that I'm not entirely confident that I'll be able to have as many entries here as I did while living in Seoul - especially over the last year when I averaged more than once every two days or so.

Part of the reason for this is that fact that through my program, students are asked to journal about the day's events and to show evidence of self-critical and reflective thought about their learning and teaching. While some are handling this through electronic format, I've decided to keep my electronic journaling to this blog and will be writing in one of them nice moleskin journals for my university needs. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) I want to keep my blog separate and apart from most of the nitty-gritty of what goes on at school. It's good practice for when I get into my teaching practicum and actually need to adhere to the privacy acts that exist in schools in Canada. 2) I'm thinking it would be a good idea to once again get into the practice of writing in a hand-written journal - something I haven't done for probably about 15 years. The journal for school will go with me everywhere, and I'm going to need to make specific time for writing in it on a regular basis. I'm interested to see where this process goes, and how it's worked into the curriculum for my program.

So, that's that. Yet, despite the fact that I'm simply not going to have as much time to give to entries here, I still want to. Truly, I'm not sure who reads this anymore, but I had gotten to a place where the only specific audience in mind was my family who were further away than they are now, and some friends who had moved about the world to end-up also far away. So, I suppose I will still be writing with y'all in mind.

And, I suppose if I'm going to get into anything approaching a regular rhythm with my entries, I should begin with what it was like to leave Seoul this time. It was different.

I was going to write that I have now officially been away from Seoul for the longest amount of time since I started living there. Suwon was a different animal, and it's hard to look at the time I spend in Canada immediately after Suwon as even being in the same ballpark as what I'm experiencing now.

This past August 25th, I left a job I've held for the last 2 and a half years. The job was mostly unsatisfying for a great many reasons which I don't really need to get into anymore... so that's nice. But it also provided me with the opportunity to meet some really good people, to live in a comfortable apartment that I made my own, and to investigate my own teaching methodology that, struggle with it as I did in that arena, became stronger I think through the adversity that I faced with it.

I also left a city I have grown to love - not without its blemishes - and one that I plan to return to before this time next year. I love living in Seoul, and I aim to find an even better situation for myself, work-wise, when I return, though I know that the friendship landscape will look a lot different than it did when I left there - it always does in Seoul.

And of course, I had to walk away from the woman I love as I went through customs at an airport. Not to belabour the point, but when you feel that much sadness in parting, you know that the strength of what you have will bring you back together. The rabbit has plans to visit Canada this Christmas, which pretty much guarantees that this will be the best holiday in the lengthening chronology that is my life. If this is the last Santa Claus year for my nephews, then I'm overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to be there with my fiance to share it with them.

So, Seoul waits over there, for me, for now, and that's okay. I will be a busy man over the next year. Canada time - a year of it - might be just what's required for me to re-approach Seoul with the right directed energy when it's time again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Still here... but...

It's been nearly two weeks I think since I last blogged. This is because:

1) I left Seoul on August 25th.
2) I had to keep it a secret as I was asked to host a theatre awards event in my hometown two days after I got back to Calgary.
3) I have been busy with friends, but mostly with family, since being back in Calgary.
4) Tomorrow morning, I will leave for Vancouver where I will be enrolled in the Professional development Program at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby for one year.


I will write about these and other things as soon as I get a chance.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Vacation Part 4: Haein-sa

Sorry it's taken so long for me to update - for nearly a week now I've been in a constant state of packing, organizing, cleaning, and moving. This in an attempt to have my last week in Korea (for a year) be a relaxing one and free of worry. More on that later.

In the meantime, Haeinsa...

I had my sights set on seeing this temple back in my Suwon days. I'm not a Buddhist, but I'm curious about the history and the teachings and I happen to be living in a part of the world where millenia-old relics are available to view, or walk-through and I'm going to darn well take advantage.

First let me say that getting there was a challenge. We basically planned to move from Namwon to Haein-sa with necessary bus transfers at Geocheong and Hapcheong where I was told there were frequent buses up to the temple. Not true, it turns out, so rather than wait half a day, we ended-up taking a direct bus to Haein-sa from Geocheong. For anyone planning to visit the temple in the future, go from the express bus terminal in Daegu. Just trust me.

Haein-sa is located in the mountains of Gayasan National Park - a tiny little national Park just an hour West of Daegu. The temple itself is fairly unremarkable in terms of its appearance (though there are some lovely mountain views), but what makes it one of Korea's three "jewel temples" is that fact that it holds the Koreana Tripitaka - the 80,000+ wooden printing blocks completed in the mid 1300s that canonized the entire Buddhist writings then in use.

The blocks were carve in Chinese of course and carved in reverse as to allow for proper transfer during the ink-printing process. That's a lot of whittling time. By gum!

The blocks (an obvious national treasure) are currently stored in another national treasure: the Janggyeong-gak, a square arrangements of wooden buildings consisting of shelving that begins about a meter off of the floor and the floor is made of sand containing powders to keep-away insects and to maintain a proper level of moisture in the building.

The wood itself looks like it did the day it was carved. The trees were cut, soeaked in sea water for three years, then in fresh water for three years, then dried for three years before carving began. The result is the world's largest and most complete and error-free canon of the East Asian Buddhist text. Buddhists from across the world make pilgrimmage here.

Of course the blocks mean little to me aside from their historical worth, but it's hard not to be impressed by them all. What adds to the aura of the bulding are the fact that they can't be entered - only peered-through. The wooden slatted windows help to allow for air-flow and as tempting as they are to stick your camera lens through, you're own eyes and memory will have to suffice as no cameras are allowed in use withing the courtyard of the Janggyeong-gak. This, I understand, as without the ban there would be a never-ending swarm of people like me blocking the windows with cameras. Rain started falling through and I managed to sneak away from the guards long enough to take a couple of photos of the buildings themselves. Nothing like having a Canon G11 at your displosal - it's small size and swivel screen allow for some pretty stealthy stuff. Security in high here though - as it should be. Lest we forget the Namdaemun gate arson of a few years past. You don't have to be a Buddhist to feel at least a sense of awe at the history and artistry maintained at Haein-sa.

Gayasan National park is well worth thr trip for anyone heading south and though are day was mercifully cool, it would even be better in the fall. The temple admission is a minimal charge and there are restuarants and cafes along the path not too far away, and tastefully done.

And that was how we capped-off the trip - a cool and calming trip to the "Temple of Reflection on Smooth Sea". A pleasant and scenic bus ride to Daegu, a boarding on the KTX, and a trip home to Seoul. 5 Nights, 6 Days. Gang ho-dong, eat your heart out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer Vacation Part 3: Namwon

It should first be said that I choose to return to Namwon, and convinced the rabbit to do so out of pure nostalgia. Namwon was one of the many stops on our school field trip itinerary two years ago with the grade 3 students, it is a city that serves as the backdrop for Korea's most famous love story, Chunhyangjeon, and it was the place where the rabbit and I, as cheesy as it sounds, started our own little love story.

Namwon is a small town with a slightly smaller population than Buyeo's, though I would venture a guess that they get a little more traffic than does the former Baekje capital.

As a result of the Chunhyang story, Namwon seems to have happily adopted the role of "Theme City of Love" which is actually the city's official slogan, like "Happy Suwon" and "Seoul: Soul of Asia". Namwon's official logo is a stylized heart, whereas Buyeo's is a mascot with a head made of the famous incense burner, and Jeonju's is a couple of mascots with hanji fans for hair... you get the idea.

Anyway, the high point for most visitors to Namwon is Gwanghalluwon, a traditional garden that is probably the most historically lovely one in the country - take that, Biwon! It's a smallish area that can be pretty fully explored in less than an hour, but on a nice day, it's a great place to take one's time, sit in one of the many pavilions, and just relax.

For those who want to further explore the Chunhyang tale, however, Gwanghalluwon is also the place. Using some of the photos I took in Namwon, let me relate the much abbreviated story of Chunhyang here, accompanied by some helpful photos which add their own colour to the tale...

"Mong-ryong, a son a of a Namwon nobleman, goes out to Gwanghalluon one night to take a break from constant study. While hanging-out in the garden's main pavilion with his servant, Bang-ja, he sees a hot girl on a swing. This is Chun-hyang, the daughter of a local entertainer.

Mong-ryong decides that he needs to meet this beautiful girl, so Bang-ja arranges a meeting that night at the girl's mother's house. Apparently, that's enough to convince all three parties that the two yoots should marry that very night, but in secret only, as it simply wouldn't do to have the son of a lord marry such a lowly, however lovely, girl. Mong-rong takes his nightly prize over the next few months while the pale and nightmarish mom watches.

Sadly, Mong-ryong's father is relocated to Seoul, and Mong-ryong must accompany him to the capital in order to complete his high level exams. Chunhyang begs him not to go, and apparently narrowly avoids getting run over by his horse.

With Mong-ryong's father away, the new magistrate in Namwon begins to act-out - ignoring his duties to the citizens of the area, Namwon begins to fall apart while the magistrate sets his sights on bedding every possible young girl in town. He finally seeks-out Chunhyang, and when she refuses, citing her loyalty to her absent husband, he beats her and imprisons her.

Mon-ryong, having graduated from his exams with flying colours, decides to become a secret royal inspector. He returns to Namwon in disguise as a beggar and stealthily interviews the locals from whom he learns that not only has Namwon gone to shit, but his lady love has been sexually assaulted and imprisoned.

A few days later, the magistrate plans to celebrate his birthday by executing Chunhyang in the palace courtyard... but wait! Still disguised, Mong-ryong appears with his royal guards and reads aloud a newly written poem which reveals all of the wrongs the magistrate has done to the city. Mong-ryong denounces the magistrate, and then, just to make sure that his now-bleeding and broken secret wife is still faithful, asks her with his disguised voice from behind a fan if she will sleep with him. Fat chance of that - if this girl can have both of her legs flogged and still say no to royalty, what hope does this new guy have?

When Chunhyang again replies that she will remain loyal to her husband, despite the fact that apparently all royal visitors to her town want to have sex with her, Mong-ryong reveals himself, expresses admiration for Chunhyang's loyalty, and she remarkably doesn't punch him in the face.

They live happily ever after."

So, that, minus a few details, is the story. Namwon hosts a "Chunhyang Festival" every year, celebrating the girl's faithfulness to her husband and highlighting the town's own unique history and culture. A "Miss Chunhyang" contest is also held each year.

I don't so much mind the story. In the context of the Korean canon of "dutiful sons" and women who remain inexplicably faithful to absent and abusive husbands, it's a relatively mild affair, and told well, even has its charms.

A few film versions of the story exist, but the one the rabbit and I checked-out in a DVD bang the night before leaving Jeonju was a 2010 film by the name of Bang-ja Jeon...

Remember this dopey-looking summumabitch?

No - not me... Bang-ja! He's Mong-ryong's loyal servant who arranged the lover's meeting in the first place. The new film reveals a new spin on the traditional tale, in that Bang-ja, not Mong-ryong, get's into Chunghyang's bed chamber first, and that theirs is the love worth remembering, even if it wasn't worthy of surviving as a nationally treasured folktale - something the film suggests was manufactured out of greed.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most film versions of the Chunhyang story are likely as banal and unsurprising as the wikipedia entry of the folktale. I don't want to give away too many surprises, but should you decide to satisfy your Chunhyang curiosities and watch what is now considered a blasphemous version of the famous story, you will at the very least be entertained (and perhaps periodically infuriated) by Bang-ja's Story (방자전).

The people of Namwon protested the film's release last year as, in many senses, the new story craps all over the town's main reason for being. A warning though for those with sensitive constitutions, there is a lot of sexy time in this film. Bang-ja tries a whole bunch of new stuff with Chunhyang, and it turns out he's a pretty strong guy.

It also turns out that most every version of the Chunhyang tale on film will come with it own depictions of explicit Mong-ryong / Chunhyang trysting. The photo below was taken of an otherwise tame movie that was playing in a Chunhyang history hall in a corner of Gwanghalluwon - this near the kiddy swings and arrow-tossing games. The still photo didn't accurately capture the thrusting motion.

Still, I think the new version of the story has enough surprises and depth to merit a watch. Go for it.

All in all, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Namwon as a brief stop-over or overnight visit. Gwanghalluwon is a must-see, though you would be fine skipping the "Chunhyang Theme Park" which is a collection of 3D models and houses representative of the story and time, though you can avoid the 6,000 won entrance fee after 6 PM. If you happen to be in the area in May, certainly seek-out the Chunhyang festival. I would imagine there would be some real points of interest then.

But where did we stay in Namwon, the Theme City of Love? As much as I wanted to go for a love motel, we went for a quaint little inn just outside of the city. It was comfortable, but there were no mugs - only drinking glasses in which to have our morning coffee, so I protected our hands from the heat with my socks. Don't worry, they were clean.