Sunday, February 28, 2010

Once again with a little Seoul

bus01a “The boiled silkworm larva doesn’t taste like it smells.”

“So, it tastes better than it smells? – ‘cause it smells pretty putrid”

“I didn’t say that they tasted better – I said they tasted different.”

So went a portion of my dinner conversation with Rich – the headmaster of the Korea International School where Sara and I have been visiting and teaching for the last week. We were handed off cold war spy swap style at a pancake house in Seoul by Chris – our librarian and poet wrangler at the Seoul International School, where we began our Korean adventure. Kris, the elementary librarian at KIS (whom we have dubbed Kris with a K) and her husband Sean assumed control of our well being at that point.

seoul001 Chris (with a C) had graciously dragged us around Seoul after school Friday and all day Saturday. We started out by taking a bus to the to the yarn market where Sara was overwhelmed by the immensity and selection there. Imagine a six story warehouse with the circumference of a city block divided into ten foot stalls full of yarn, thread, drapery material, buttons and other goo gaws and thingamabobs.

The buses in Seoul cut through traffic like fresh oysters slipping from stainless steel chopsticks thanks to their own traffic lanes which are free of the bumper to bumper traffic of the rest of the road. The drivers take off from stops without the slightest hesitation as passengers mount the top step into the aisle causing one to break into a trot as you’re hurled by inertia into the vehicle. Buses seem to be the quickest way to navigate the city. We later also try the subway – which is as hot and crowded as it is clean and graffiti free. There are two types of cabs in Seoul – white and black – the black cabs are a little more posh and cost about 40% more than the white ones and neither have the advantage that the busses do with their own lanes.

seoul003 Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous items on earth is a taxi driver’s beaded seat cover. Just about every cab in every country I have ever been have them. One other interesting thing about the taxis in Seoul – the driver’s picture on the hack license displayed on the dash looks to be taken once and then never updated. So the cabbies stoically staring down the camera from the laminated placard may have a full head of jet black hair and a smooth apple rounded face while the man behind the wheel sports a half dozen wisps of silver sprouting from a liver spotted expanse of skull and leathery skin wrinkled as a mastiff even though each is the same person. I wondered if looking at the picture made the driver wistful for younger days or if they believed they still resembled their photos.

seoul004 As we ride along in our bus I notice out on the streets, where the temperature is hanging around 27 degrees Fahrenheit that Korean girl’s legs are pretty much impervious to cold - miniskirts and kill heels are the uniform of the young Korean woman. In fact uniforms are of all kinds abound. The parking attendants are resplendent in tailored jackets and white gloves which accentuate their interpretive dance like guidance of folks entering and exiting parking lots – shop keepers dress smartly almost in formal attire – the basement of the Lotte Mart (the country’s answer to Wall Mart) stocks racks and racks of prep school jackets but the epitome of job specific clothing trophy has to go to the bearded guards at Changgyeonggung Palace.

seoul008 Sara picks out some yarn and asks the saleswoman in the stall if they have a pattern for a particular shawl that is hanging at the front of the cramped cubby of a shop. The woman speaks no English and Sara no Korean so the lady grabs a set of circle knitting needled a ball of the yarn that Sara has purchased and begins knitting away – showing Sara the stitch used to produce the item. I have often heard that math is the universal language, or even music but I had not thought of knitting as a form of communication before I watched this. Two women from entirely different cultures understanding each other through the click, loop and pulling of yarn across a couple bamboo sticks.

seoul005  It’s these little epiphanies that make our trips so much fun – I’m writing this as we cruise along the freeway in a tour bus on our way to the DMZ. I wonder what we’ll see there – we’ve been promised a pretty good lunch which I assume will most likely not include boiled silkworms – there are still a few cultural idiosyncrasies that do not translate as easily as knitting.



Friday, February 19, 2010

Do you know LeBron James?

sis004 So asked the smiling six foot two eight grade boy in my public speaking class when I opened the floor to questions after the lesson. Sara and I have just spent two days with the eighth through twelfth grade classes at the Seoul International School here in chilly Korea.


We shook off our jet lag and talked with the kids about our lives as poets and globetrotting educators, did some writing exercises and even had some extra curricular discussions concerning  the Cavs trading away Z. As per usual in the international school system the students were attentive and hard working. A bit shy to start but brave enough to try anything they were called upon to do. In the end I think we were all writing and talking with a bit more conviction.


Seoul International was a great way to begin our two week tour of South Korean schools and I am really looking forward to the coming days here in this hospitable country.


sis005 Today we head out to explore the city a bit more with our librarian/hostess Kris – the epitome of hospitality herself having given up her apartment for our use while we visit in her school. In fact all the teachers and staff we encountered couldn’t have been more accommodating from writing cabbie directions in Korean making sure we got home with no surprises, sharing literary journals they have edited, to helping us order our barbeque chicken (even though the sweet sauce was every bit as fiery as the spicy sauce) we have been made to feel welcome in every way.



As for my future shooting forward’s question. Although I may not be a regular on the guest list at gatherings in Mr. James’ household it does seem the superstar and I hold some of the same ideals as important.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Seoul Train

seoul001 Well the trip over was pretty uneventful – as uneventful as 28 hours of non-stop, zero sleep cattle shuffle and egg carton crated moving halfway across the globe can be. All our planes were on time, our baggage made it, there was a pretty good selection of movies on the way over, the food on the planes was edible and by some karmic reward Sara and I found ourselves the only occupants in our row on the plane allowing us to stretch ourselves and our various books, iPods, and laptops comfortably between us.

seoul003 I want to indulge in a little aside here. one of the movies I watched on the trip over was a Bollywood flic called Aladdin. Now I am not a great fan of American musicals (most of which I  was exposed to on Saturday afternoon TV growing up in the 70s – they usually came on after all the cartoons were played out under the umbrella of Saturday Matinee or some other equally creative title) I don’t despise them either. Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, The George Cohen Story, Singing in the Rain, etc.etc. I just never really got into the whole breaking out into song thing.

Then one afternoon I saw a a Busby Berkley movie starring Eddie Cantor filled with insanely intricately choreographed battalions of platinum blondes that gave a whole new meaning to the term suspension of disbelief. This is the quality that I love about Bollywood movies the sheer schmaltzy surrealism. So – this goes on my bucket list – I want to be part of a Bollywood dance routine that is recorded for posterity – I figure we will need at least a couple three to four dozen folks to pull this off – Oak Island vacation crew – you listening?

Anyway – we’ve landed safe and sound in South Korea, found our lost bag left on a bus containing Sara's passport, various electronics and cash intact wandered around a shopping area called Lotte World, watched youngseoul005 speed skaters in the ice rink of the aforementioned Lotte World, I bought some new eyeglasses and we had a couple meals. One lunch of a red curry  was so spicy I got a little dizzy while eating it!

This morning we begin working in the Seoul International School for two days then we will explore the city some more properly. I’ll be posting some pics (with our new camera) and ruminations as we get better acquainted with the city.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

There’s no Bizness like Po-bizness.

asu001 “It’s dangerous writing a poem.”  So said Nick, at Sharon Elementary school.

The last two months have seen quite the whirlwind of activity here in the Salinger / Holbrook household. Trips to Morocco and Abu Dhabi followed by teacher workshops in Tempe Arizona at ASU after which Sara headed to Seattle and I came back to the Erie shores to visit some schools here in the Highland District of Medina (pronounced Me – Dye – Na as opposed to the Arabic Ma –Dee- Na) Hinckley and Sharon.

mucho Next up we get on a plane at the rooster insulting hour of 6am – which means being at the airport @4am – to head to South Korea and then Shanghai, China to round out our overseas adventure for this winter.

In Tempe we keynoted at the 40th annual Language and Literacy Conference at Arizona State University. We had lunch with our good friend, ex wrestler, current professor and cowboy poet, Dr. Jim Blasingame at a joint called Mucho Gusto. There I partook in the Big Ass Burrito (actual menu item – Sara had the Half Ass portion) along with some of the best guacamole I have ever consumed! The teachers at the conference were receptive and enthusiastic - much more eager than I was to get up before 5am to catch a plane back to the frozen north coast the next morning.

hinckley002 Back in Ohio I flirted with snow days while completing a three day residency in the Highland Local Schools. Each morning I checked the scrolling lists of closed schools and each day – much to the chagrin of students and teachers alike - the school I was headed to was open. We spent three days writing definition poems which was a whole lot of fun and I was glad to get the sessions in sans any weather delays.

suzy3 In the midst of all this I also drove to Ann Arbor Michigan twice, to drop off and then pick up our foo foo dog Suzi Creamcheese to get her freak on – hopefully resulting in some puppies this April.

So – writing poetry is some pretty dangerous business – who knows what will happen once you start? You might end up on a plane to Shanghai, driving a dog to Michigan, staring at a plate of kim chi or eating a burrito as big as your head. I’ll tell ya this, It sure beats working for a living!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dubai, Dubai, Doo


If our trip to Morocco was a step into the past – our visit to Dubai was a headlong dive into the future. The above pic is part of a fountain in the Dubai Mall (the largest in the world.)  Everything about Dubai is all about being the biggest, the most expensive, extreme cutting edge architecture providing the backdrop for a bustling busy city founded on the commerce of pearls, then gold and now oil.


The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, looms to our right as we drive into the city with our hosts John and Dianne. Pictures that I have seen of the thing had led me to believe it to be a spindly almost fragile structure like a dying witch’s finger pointing skyward. The thing is much more substantial in person. Standing at it’s base and looking up the building is literally breathtaking. In fact just about any of the buildings that pack the skyline could serve as a centerpiece in most US cities, but here they line up like avant garde bowling pins.


We get into the city just as afternoon prayers are starting around 12:30 so the souks are battening down their doors. We decide to hop a boat across the Khor Dubai – otherwise known as The Creek. The juxtaposition of the old wooden vessels chugging along, coughing and choking puffs of exhaust with the sleek skyline as a backdrop highlights the duality of this city.


Back in 1970 the city had a population of just about 100,000 – today more than 1.2 million Emirates  reside in the metropolis.


Above, an Emirate who obviously rates a bit more than most. We crammed about thirty people onto one of these abras, the ferries that shuttle folks across the creek, but he and his wife are the sole passengers of boat number 57. Fortunately for me our boats were headed in opposite directions since he wasn’t too happy with me snapping his pic and gave me the stink eye as our two vessels moved away from each other.


Even though the vast majority of shops in the souks were closed for Friday prayers there were still enterprising capitalists willing to risk heavenly retribution in order to make a Dirham or two.  The young fellow to our left here has rolled out a blanket full of ersatz designer watches. As we walk through the streets we are constantly serenaded with  “Rolex, Rolex, Rolex – DVD, DVD, DVD, iPhone, iPhone, iPhone.”

We wander around the souks a bit and then hop back into a ferry and grab our car to go visit the wonder that is the twelve million square foot Dubai Mall. Retractable roofs, an aquarium, dancing fountains, an Olympic sized ice rink, a food court the size of most  US malls, a retail workforce of over 13,000 folks, live entertainment ranging from mimes, to Greek dancers, to sopranos singing arias from the phantom of the opera make the experience of visiting here one of head shaking astonishment.


Here Sara and Dianne are learning from the guide inside the tunnel in the mall’s aquarium that the sharks in the tank do not eat the other fish because they are so well fed.


Here’s a pic I snapped of a shark eating one of the other fish in the tank simultaneously as Sara and Dianne were speaking with the gentleman above. Somehow, wherever we went I never felt like we were getting the whole story about whatever was going on – this serves as an apropos metaphor.


After our visit to the aquarium we grabbed a bit to eat at a Chicago style pizza joint then caught the dancing fountain show outside of the Mall in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa.


Extra special thanks to our hosts for the week Dianne and John ex-pat buckeyes who carted our butts all over, shared their semi-psychotic cat and never once locked us out of their house.