Archive for October, 2012

There was once a man of age who loved to play chess. He played every day and would play with anyone who challenged him. Many did not like playing with him, however, because of his unusual style.

by ~AllisonStanley http://www.deviantart.com

His style was to defend without attacking for many rounds. This is called the long game, but it only works if your opponent is also playing the long game. If your opponent is on the offensive, you need to strategize an attack lest you lose too many pieces to defend your territory.

The problem was that everyone knew he wouldn’t take the offensive. He would always play the long game, and always lose.

An opponent asked him once, “Why do you always play the long game when you know that you will always lose? You’ve played enough times to know that you need to take the offensive to win.”

He replied, “The reason I’ve been playing all these years is not to win. It is to find someone else who likes to play the long game.”

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Last night I woke up many times sore from my day of cycling, changing the icepack I had laid across formidable sunburns on both my thighs. I covered everything but those, and now nursing a cold I realize
I shouldn’t have done what I did in the first place, but it makes no difference at this point. We are all light, we all come from light and we will all return to light. What difference will a couple of sunburns
make?

I set off at about 10:30 and did not return to nurse my burns until about 21:30. The first leg of the trip is from my apartment downtown to the Wolmyeong Mountain park, a nice workout involving many ups and
downs, which I am sure is as hard on my bicycle as it is on me.The mountain range is covered by lush evergreens, firs and pines, and apparently contains a healing tree, called silver birch, under which Koreans sit to inhale phytocide. There’s a local belief that the aroma from silver birch cures anything from hangovers to cancer.On the Sunday I rode out there I could see many people reclining on the wooden beds meant especially for breathing in the healing scent. Up and down the hills I went, passing Koreans of all ages, past Wolmyeong Lake, through a school area and some rock-climbing walls, down a steep path and finally into the industrial region.

The rich, delicious, tea-like sap scent of the emerald, lake-punctuated mountains yielded to the smell of factories, a new toxic odor appearing at every turn, at one point gasoline, at one point burning plastic, at one point a scent like sulfur, and finally quitting this plague upon the senses, I turned into the large stretch of rice fields. If gold and green had a child, it would be the colour of these crops stretching to every horizon.

Gold and green met that mellow sky blue and stretched across the periphery, the scent of sweet grass filling my senses, yielding once in a while to the ocean’s odour of dead fish, a not unpleasant smell until
it becomes too strong.

Of course you cannot expect the ride to be without its sting, for the greater the beauty, the greater the beast. As much as a primate like me may love riding freely among the rice fields, so do the dragonflies and lesser flies love swarming around them. Anticipating this, I wore glasses and tired to keep my mouth as well-closed as possible to avoid an unwanted meal. Still yet the spiderwebs clothed me as I rode, tickling everything, and I thanked mother earth at one point for the richness of biodiversity and apologized for massacring so many of her friends’ homes.

Off in the distance I beheld a massive monument to green, clean energy, a giant windmill, white and streamlined, stretching its arms like a colossal toy soldier standing at attention in the distance. Here near the ocean, on a flat area, it proved to be the best place for such a monster, towering above everything else including the large apartment block likely filled with its engineers.

Otherwise there was the gold and green surrounding me, and soon crept in the parks, hotels and stores built to capitalize on the world-famous record breaking seawall. The first parks and hotels are dismal. The rooms for rent are cheap, and still located close to the industrial area, manufacturing site and Gunsan’s world-famous Free Trade Zone. I once was asked by a young Korean man what a free trade zone is and had to scramble to find an answer. I explained all I knew: that it is a part of a city or country run by an economic rather than a federal body.

To this reply, this inquisitive student asked,
“You mean the national laws don’t apply there?”
“I guess not. I’ve never thought about it.”
“So labour laws, safety protocols, and even felony offences cannot be prosecuted?”
“Well, I don’t think anyone would actually do that.”
“But they could if they wanted to.”
“Yes, I suppose it’s possible.”
“Then I don’t think ‘free trade zone’ is the correct term.”
“So what would you call it?”
“I think the correct term is ‘concentration camp.’”

Clever kid, right? Bellowing shame to those who think young Koreans can’t speak English well! I have one criticism, though. The Koreans have pocket translators, so I never know if they fully understand the
implications of what they are saying. The words they are searching for may not be correct, at least not in context. This young man probably didn’t know that he was referring to special economic areas, these ‘free
trade zones’ as slave camps comparable to Dachau or Auschwitz. Or maybe he did understand and it was in fact, me who did not understand the implication that he was making.

These thoughts of concentration camps, smoke-spewing factories and swarms of dragonflies whirred past me as I entered an area that looked like the setting of a zombie apocalypse. Here I could see many rural
initiatives to construct sculptures, trails and playgrounds that as far as I could tell, had not been maintained nor used in the decades since they were constructed. People drive cars. Why walk in a beautiful reed-pond, or cycle through many paths and enjoy these beautiful sculptures, when the real destination is the world’s biggest seawall?

My bicycle has become a friend to me, with its own personality. We enjoy so many experiences together, going across the bridges in the overgrown reed-pond, or going through various parks on adventures. She
even kept me safe during a head-on collision with a motor-scooter last week. The delivery driver claimed he was fine. Bernadette was a touch bungled up, and I made it out alright with minimal damage. No fractures, just a little muscle pain in my thigh, nothing a little ice pack couldn’t cure.

We’ve explored many of these overgrown parks: beautiful brick designs overwhelmed by weeds, bright, colourful playgrounds left to nature’s forward temperament, and toilets left as derelicts while giant steel
goliaths stand wasting away from neglect. Who would care for that which no one admires? Did it matter that lawns once kept tidy for smiling, happy couples and chuckling, sobbing, rambunctious youths to roll around in were now twisted with brambles and gopher holes? Would anyone ever notice the ruinous decay of these grand designs while screeching by at speeds well above the posted limit, tossing their garbage into these fields of a hopeful urban planner’s dreams?

I am the only one to notice as Bernadette sits beside me in this wild, watching me eat spicy beef and vegetables with two kinds of kimchi. There is another witness to the overgrown fields, a minivan that
seems to have stalled out in the park. Its driver is smoking out of the window and chatting on his smart phone.

My helmet and biking gloves go back on and I resume with Bernadette out of the wilderness and into the nicer area, the foot of the seawall, where there is a bustling town of fish and commerce. I should rephrase, bustling would be the right word if it weren’t for the fact that everything from the hotels to the extended quay have scarcely more than shop-owners and fishermen inhabiting them. As I will not be bringing fish along with me, the little support I can give the roadside businesses are fifty cents for a vitamin supplement and a dollar for water, both of which are quite necessary for my endurance.

Passing the quay I am now on the seemingly endless bridge into the misty horizon. The bridge stretches to an island called Sinshido, surrounded by other islands like Sunyido and Yamido. There is then a
continuation of the seawall, a bit shorter of a trip, to the coastal town of Buan, a beautiful town hidden behind a lush, green forested park, which is my destination. Along the road to Sinshido there are
several stops where tourists can pause to buy cigarettes, junk food, ice-cream, vitamin supplements, fish jerky or ginseng. The rest stops are called “parks”: dolphin park, wind park, wave park, and so on, and
are each marked with a new and interesting feature.

I enter the vastness, thigh smarting somewhat from my head-on collision with the motor scooter. I breathe in the air, and photosynthetically (for we do synthesize sunlight, you know) absorb the rays from above, well-protected with sunblock across my face, neck, arms and legs. I ride until I reach the island, and I ride along the interior where fishermen cast their poles at the side of a road jutting out from crumbling cement fish restaurants and tackle shops. I stop to survey my surroundings. Behind me there is sunlit tan, and before me is the sphere of the taegugki, the emblematic yin yang on the South Korean
flag: below the blue of the ancestral sea god and above the red of the ancestral sky god.

Before me is a small island with a stretch of sandy beach, the first I have encountered in two years of living in a coastal town. I want so badly to get to that beach across the channel. The channel is so small
that I in my insanity think I can swim across to that forested, residentless hunk of rock sitting in the placid water. But the water is not so placid, and I fear a current. I will have to bring an inflatable raft next time.

I continue cycling, inspect the small island’s theatre house I make a note to one day visit, and leave the island to discover a beach. I know there must be one somewhere. There is not much to focus my attention on for this stretch of seawall to Buan. About two hours into this stretch and I decide I should go home, even though the forested mountain sits before me. With an audiobook babbling away in my headphones, I hesitate, but decide to do something crazy and accomplish the full length, persuaded by egotistical voices in my mind prodding me with insults belike “the man who almost crossed the world’s longest seawall” and “but why are you doing this, just to brag?” Demons away, ego intact, I push forward and pay for it at the end of the stretch with a nasty sunburn across my knees which sting terribly. I stop on the Buan side for water and find my beach which will be no fun to lie on with my ruby skin.

After parking my bike on the golden sand that was to be my prize, looking sadly past a beached sailboat into the bright misty beyond from which I cycled, I thought to enter the forested mountain beach park. At
the entrance, there was a crooked old wooden arch inscribed with some Korean I could not understand. I logically deduced that the sign read “enchantress’s forest,” for truly, what else could it be? Covering the
arch were spider webs and uncommonly large spiders crawling about. I circumnavigated the spiderwebs and proceeded up the forest mountain trail. Past my sneakers crabs scurried back and forth avoiding death under my weary stride.

Scratching were my hands, itching were my knees, crawling were the crabs, guarding were the spiders, and here I came to a golden green pasture hugged by the gates of an English style castle beside a GS gas
station. That is where I found beside the path a small, abandoned cement house. The windows were boarded up, and at some point, the door had been blocked with a brick wall which was now busted and crumbled, dewy with spider webs. Of course I had to enter.

In front of me was a giant mud nest, a little like a wasp’s. The sound of arrows unsheathed at supersonic speeds whirred past my ears although it was too dark to see what they were. Fwam-fwam shot the
arrows, and I wondered what lived in the giant wasp’s nest. I peer in, and one of these arrows shot out, it was a tiny bird, a sort of sparrow, and other sparrows resided within other giant mud nests. I walked forth and more sparrows flitted by at rapid speeds.

In the house, there was a bedroom, and a main room, but the room had been converted into a small barn. Plenty of poo pellets gathered around my sneakers. I looked out the window at the incredible view of the ocean from this high-up vantage point and breathed in the salty air as close to the wired up window as I could draw my face, for the smell inside was truly hideous.

This was the mystery I contemplated, the mystery of the converted house, a mystery that would not become apparent until further down the path an animal with a shiny black coat darted desperately away. I could not recognize the form, or not at least until I walked further along the path and heard a bleeting in my left ear. I turned and there was a magnificent, pure, petite white goat tied to a tree, calling to, I must assume, the black coat that had just flitted into the bush. The dark coat returned and looked me in the eye without malice, however my feelings of fear caught sight of the sharp part of its horn and played within my mind a scenario wherein the goat jerked its horn up into me as a result of its madness, for I had invaded its territory.

It came nearer, and I felt the horn in my scenario, and it was not a pleasant feeling. I ran. The goat, however, did not. It merely stood, its bleating, as well as its companion’s, getting louder and louder as I jogged past the cement barn, as I descended the path by the scurrying crabs, and finally to the castle and gas station where I was out of breath, and a voice told me: Look for the four-leaf clover.

I did as the voice instructed me, and as I did, everything came into focus. It was perfectly obvious to me. A young couple had fallen in love and eloped against the king’s wishes. They fled across the world on mighty horses, strong enough to bring them here. They lived a simple life, and began to design their new kingdom. What they didn’t know was that the king dispatched an enchantress to place a curse upon them. She did as she was instructed, for the king paid well, and thus she granted the lovers immortality, but they were cursed to remain in the forms of goats. The enchantress quite recently discovered that the lovers were enjoying their lives, and so, still under her command from the long-dead king (for witches ALWAYS obey their blood-oaths), she trapped them in a barn that was once a peasant’s house. By some feat of strength, the goats escaped, not unknown to the enchantress, and saw that their old castle had been turned into a cheap motel, and that there was now the world’s longest estuary seawall connecting their land with another coastal city, and that these strange metal beasts were crawling back and forth on it. Alerted to this, the enchantress had only time to tie up the white coat before she had to fly off to attend a pretty important witches’ circle back home. She did, however, foresee that a young gentleman would be in a position to free the goats, so she sent a telegram back to one of her witch-minions, Kalypse, to bewitch his thoughts, thus keeping him from releasing the immortal lovers.

Anyway, after I found the solution to this odd mystery, I found the four-leaf clover beneath my feet and decided I would give it to Kalypse. I don’t feel upset about any of this. A witch must do what a witch must
do.

Do we let fantasy genre off the hook for representing reality?

If you’ve enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or perhaps the fantasy works of Neil Gaiman or Angela Carter, you’ve certainly seen something in fantasy beyond just an escape from reality. Reality is more complex than what you see.

Enter fantasy genre. In fantasy we do not just escape. We think about the big things. “Are we robot or human?” is my favorite. For what is the difference between the body with a soul and the body driven without purpose towards death? And how well does our world reward and encourage following orders? “Ours is not to question why/ ours is but to do and die,” wrote Tennyson in The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Here in fantasy we can ask the big questions, can’t we? I was a little disappointed lately, though. Sometimes I read a fantasy, and luckily it only happens sometimes, and see how it’s been written to become a movie. Then the movie will come out (expectedly) and provide escape for some people in the theater for a millimeter of their lives, but nothing changes. No big questions are asked. The emotional buttons are pressed, and the synesthesia of lights, music, colour, and death floods in to move an audience to tears, but causes no catharsis.

Worse yet, I just read a fantasy book and then saw the movie, and the movie was actually better. That never happens. I felt embarrassed for the author.

Well written fantasy is not an escape for me. It’s enhanced reality. I hereby rename good fantasy. I now call it enhanced reality genre.

images from Gunsan, ROK

Posted: October 8, 2012 in photos

photos by Stu Leal of my hometown of 군산시:

I met Blue Griffiths at a coffee shop in Kelowna BC, Canada. He filled his side of the table with his personality, his charm, and his characteristically engulfing physical presence. He wore the clothes of a made man, but his face held the contours of a man who has traveled throughout the universe.

He had a proposition for my mother, a career writer, editor and small time publisher. He wanted some serious work done on his novel series. He wanted it packaged, combed through, and ready to ship.

Ships he knew about, or yachts, rather. His protagonist, Chandor the Mariner, was a mysterious man, but not quite a man, or perhaps more than one. Chandor the Mariner is an elf of the Light. Elves were my specialty at the time, having studied Old Icelandic lore. I informed Mr. Griffiths that elves of Light are called Ljósálfar according to our old edda. He thanked me for the suggestion and incorporated it into his piece.

The following weeks were field with encounters with this interesting author. I learned more about his story, read his four gigantic novels in their first draft forms, and made a few comments, of which he has over exaggerated the importance. No matter. I spent time in his chalet on our local ski mountain, and enjoyed the comfort of his home and excellent barbeque skills. I came to know him as a world traveler and collector of cultural knowledge. His extensive world cultural knowledge could not be compiled by a team of ivy school professors if they had unlimited funding on a twenty-year field mission.

He enlisted my services in using Microsoft Word, and informing him about using a common scanner, for most of his novels (he had a bookshelf dedicated to them) were typewritten and bound in Thailand, which he personally visited for the task.

In his books, he describes the elves. They are for the most part immortal, unless killed by weapons. They are bound by tradition. They are trained in lethal martial arts from a very young age. They reject modern technology, although lately some heterodox elves have been learning about new tech. They connect with others through a power called cascade, which heightens emotions in all activities including intimate encounters. They are lightning quick and lethal if provoked. Their numbers are few, but those numbers have no problem infiltrating every level of human society for various good and evil purposes. The dark elves, Dökkálfar, are sadistic and powerful. They torture without regret. They break the elven codes, but in many cases they have become quite powerful. Elves have no problem getting money, power and sex. They are persuasive unto being trained hypnotists. Blue does not write of them as an outsider. He has an intimate knowledge of these creatures. If you talk with him about this topic you will discover that he can speak of his fiction as if it were reality. As if…

Blue spent much of his life in a yacht, traveling around the world. That’s where he gets the scenes for his worldly adventures described in his novels. The parallels between him and his character, Chandor the Mariner, are noteworthy. I will break he author’s code and argue that in this case, author and character blend eerily.

How far can I draw this connection? My imagination goes wild sometimes, but hear me out. I would be more likely to read Chandor the Mariner as Blue’s biography than his own autobiography. You know when you’re in the presence of someone otherworldly. I felt it.

He does not write like a twentieth-century writer. He capitalizes scores of his nouns and even some verbs. This is a style that has not been used since the Victorian period, but most notably, it was used in medieval homilies. The basics of his first draft showed a preference toward archaic contractions and his genitives were often missing apostrophes, which is characteristically medieval. In short, he writes like a monk trained in a medieval scriptorium. Some might call it sloppy writing, but I recognize the hand. During my studies at UVic I focused on manuscript archiving and even had the chance to closely view a fifteenth century manuscript held in special collections. I developed an eye for this sort of thing.

I only hope my fancies are false. The kind of evil he writes of is inconceivable. I have never read of such sadism, of such twisted desires held by such strong hands. One wonders if he has encountered it. He writes with such perfect clarity, not of one who is constructing plots and developing characters, but of one who is simply remembering and recording.

How could anyone, or rather, why would anyone even want to, recall such terrors? Maybe you need to read it to understand, and perhaps you need to meet him to know that I am not making this up. I’m sure he will be signing copies of his book in your town some day soon. However, maybe you wouldn’t want to know about this sort of thing. We humans are happier when we are ignorant, don’t you think? Isn’t ignorance bliss? Especially ignorance of the kind of terror about which Blue Griffiths has written!

This is an amazing world, this readers and writers community.

I am now reading blogs from people who read, write and experience life. It is incredible!

I can read posts from people around the world whose minds are focused intently on one thing: the word. This realization is inspirational for me. Have you ever felt like life is devoid of true substance, or that the sole purpose of life for the majority is simply to acquire possessions, satisfy their momentary wants and live to herd others? In the words of Bjork, there’s more to life than this, and many in the wordpress community reflect this understanding in words. Simple words. Delicious words. Swirling, spiraling words going through my mind as I walk to the store or teach classes.

Keep going. Be an inspiration. Delve your inner depths and explore your daily life.

Goddess Fortune is becoming frustrated. She wants to own your soul. But you sit there laughing and learning that there is much more to life than her fickle domination.

I finish this with the words of one of my favorite modern songwriters, Eugene Hutz:

Be them new Romans
Don’t envy them my friend
Be their lives longer
Their longer lives are spent
Without a love or faithful friend
All those things they have to rent
But we who see our destiny
In sound of this same old punk song
Let rest originality for sake of passing it around
Illuminating realization number one:
You are the only light there is
For yourself my friend

Looking for an enjoyable read? Check out Blue Griffiths’ first publication, hot off the press.

elffenn cover

The Elffenn series is not just a sexy, fast-paced, action-packed sci-fi thriller. If it were only that it would be a grand accomplishment. Underlying these tightly woven plot structures and expertly developed characters, we can find an allegorical homage to the true battles in our own lives between collectivity and individualism, desire and necessity, and ultimately, appearance and illusion. Griffiths gives a cosmopolitan viewpoint stretching through time and space on a topic philosophical but accessible: what if another race existed both below our streets and in our offices, in temples at the birth of religion and in the ranks of covert government operations, capable of saving or destroying humanity and our world as we know it?

Find it here.