If a guy somewhere in Asia makes a blog and no one reads it, does it really exist?

Thursday, September 30

Post Chuseok death at Dongjung

The teacher who sat at the desk in front of me at Jecheon Dong Jung (East Middle School) passed away yesterday. He had been struggling with a serious disease for some time. The entire school assembled on the athletic field as the hearse-bus did a lap of the grounds. Everyone hung their heads for a single solemn minute. His wife wailed with grief.

Then the bus left and suddenly everything returned to normal. The kids were smiling and joking. Class was rowdy as usual.

I didn't really know the man--we'd only spoken once or twice--but his death served to remind me just how little contact I have had with death so far. Only a handful of people I know have died.

Today was also my 29th birthday. This combined with the death seemed to hammer home the message that I, too, will someday get old and die. In fact, the dirty little secret is that aging, not AIDS or cancer or Republicans, is the single biggest cause of death on the planet. Why didn't anyone tell me? But people have been dying for millennia! Why is it that humans suddenly find themselves old and unprepared for death? It's like an anxiety dream in which you've forgotten to study for the biggest exam of the year. Geez, most people in developed countries have at least 50 years or so to mentally and spirituallly prepare themselves, and everyone knows that cramming for a test doesn't work.

The Japanese word もらい泣き (morai naki) means to cry out of sympathy for someone, usually for someone else who is shedding tears of grief. To me, it looked like the teachers who were dabbing their eyes on the grounds were crying because the dead teacher's wife was crying, and not because they felt any real grief for his passing. And I found that to be the saddest thing of all. People spend much of their lives at work, but many maintain very superficial relationships with their coworkers. It's not natural.

Just like driving a car to the grocery store is unnatural.

What am I saying. Too much soju and karaoke. Good night.

Tuesday, September 28

Down with suburbia!

New research suggests that suburbia is bad for your health.

See? Like I've been saying, living in a city is good.

As it says in the Salt Lake Tribune: "...living in a more sprawling urban area, such as Atlanta, has the health effect of making your body four years older than it really is, at least compared to those who live in more integrated cities, such as Seattle."

The article concludes by saying, "The desire for further multitudes of single-family homes on suburban cul-de-sacs, and our allergy to anything with the term 'high-density' attached, is going to have to be reconsidered. Our very health depends on it."

I'm telling you, the Koreans have the right idea. Build massive, affordable apartment blocks surrounded by parks, shops and restaurants. It sounds like a bad idea at first, and it looks damn ugly to single-family-home-loving Americans, but it makes more sense. High population density can be a good thing if it's planned well. Bring on the density!

Chuseok

Dear Reader! I am officially back On The Grid! After a three month hiatus, The Fold is back, with the same old look and the same stream of consciousness style you have grown to accept. Thanks for reading, Rori. If it weren't for you...well, I'd probably keep posting anyway.

So, it's the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month again, and everyone knows what that means! The Wiccan Sabbat of Mabon! Or, as it's otherwise known in Korea, Chuseok (秋夕). It's a time when everyone piles into their Hyundai minivans and enjoys hours of quality time with family while stuck on gridlocked highways. Thankfully, I managed to make my way to my adopted ancestral home of Andong without a hitch.

Much like Japan's Obon, Chuseok is a time when Koreans pay respect to their ancestors and elders. Yoonsung spent all of yesterday preparing the traditional offering to the dead, an elaborate greasy pile of meat, fish and vegetables. This morning, a quick twenty minute drive brought us to a small group of houses surrounded by rice fields, where everyone shared Yoonsung's last name. Ji-ville.

Unlike the Japanese, most rural Koreans bury their dead in the mountains (i.e. they don't cremate). The first grave we visited was that of Yoonsung's great-great grandfather. Like most of the graves, it was nothing more than a grassy mound, about chest high, projecting out from a slope. Nothing indicated what lay underneath; no headstone, no sign, no graveyard. The offering was placed in front of the grave, makkoli rice wine was sprinkled on the grass and everyone kowtowed about ten times.

The second grave we visited was that of Yoonsung's father. It looked identical to the first. We kowtowed again. And again. And again. I have no idea what would happen to all these graves if people stopped tending to them. Just think, the mountains must be covered with centuries-old abandoned graves.

The Koreans are really into kowtowing, and not just to the dead. It was a bit of a kowtow fiesta at our next destination, Yoonsung's great-grandfather's youngest brother's wife's house. A lot of people came down from Seoul to kowtow to granny, a wizened brown peanut of a woman with a broad smile and sparkling eyes. Im Chansang, the director of a film called "The President's Barber", was one of the visitors. Seems he and Yoonsung share a great-grandfather. I asked him if he needed any foreign actors for his next project and he laughed--probably more at me than with me.

More than anything else, Chuseok convinced me that the Confucian ethic is alive and well in Korea.

I had, however, heard about various traditional games that people play during the holiday, and was a bit disappointed that the only game I got to play was Uno.

From the Korea Herald:
"A feeling of carefree abandon and joy like what you once experienced in your younger days can only be relived through the traditional games that are played during Chuseok. In the game of "somuginori," two people dress up as a bull and go door to door asking for food."

Actually, it sounds like a childhood memory that I would not want to relive.