Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Blogs and other Magic

Posted: September 15, 2015 in travel
Tags: ,

I blogged for awhile. It was weird. I think I was becoming very bored with my life. So anyway, here they are:

At the moment I’m travelling by bus to a clearing in the forest in Northern Alberta. The sun is shining and I’m listening to a song called Lost by Amanda Palmer. There are dark clouds to the East, but it’s not uncommon to see dark clouds out here. It doesn’t mean it will rain.
From Canada With Love
I’ve blogged before. But never have my blogs been sincere, present. They’ve been about externals. Issues. Topics. I’d like to just concentrate on the moment here.

While I was travelling from Vancouver to Edmonton I met a couple of interesting people. I met Fulla, a Starbuck’s barista, but I feel asleep. Later on, a puzzle game app designer named Forseti sat beside me and we talked about all kinds of things. He told me he needed promotion, so I gave him the number of a friend of mine I met in Korea, Ithunn. She told me she only does social media promotion, but she’d do what she could for him.

The trees out here are an odd sight. A layer of newly grown trees sits like a carpet beneath tall-standing barren sticks that trace the outline of once healthy trees. Punctuating the new growth are periodic swamps, which sometimes look like picturesque lakes.

A sandpit of RVs sits below several pyramids of dirt by the side of the road. All around there are improvised dirt roads leading to temporary work sites. Northern Alberta is one giant temporary work site.

This isn’t my first blog post ever, but it feels like it. So let’s say it is.

I’m back at the lodge. I woke up this morning and put on one of my three outfits. I ate a plum and an orange. I walked into the kitchen and said hello to our morning cook. Her name is Eir.
The Didg

I’ve never been much into didgeridoo music. Not that I was avoiding it, or I don’t enjoy it. I just never thought of listening to it. But it’s become my soundtrack this morning. Why?

Last weekend we celebrated my daughter Hretha’s eighth birthday in Victoria. We took her out for a zipline adventure, pottery making, and sushi. All she wanted for her birthday was a didgeridoo. She couldn’t think of anything else she wanted. So my ex texted me to ask if I could find one.

Luckily there was a lady in Victoria named Snotra who had a beautiful didg. It has caterpillar designs on it. After pottery making, I sat Hretha down to make sure she would really value the didg. I told her that it was an investment, mostly in terms of the time it takes to learn it well, and she would need to make sure she wouldn’t be disappointed if she couldn’t play it overnight. Or in a month. Or in a year. But with enough dedication and proper training, I told her, she would be successful.

She began to look at the ground as though she was being scolded. I felt that she was worried that she wasn’t getting a didg. We watched some videos and talked about Australia, about their First Nations and how their conditions compare to Canadian First Nations. To tell you the truth, there were more questions than answers on that topic.

I pulled out the didg and she gave me the biggest hug ever. I thought it was going to last all day. She spent the rest of our visit trying to make the sound. I have no idea how she’s going to do this circular breathing thing. One day at a time I guess.

Turtle power.

The Didg
I need to take this moment to tell you that everything I write in this blog is a complete work of fiction and any resemblances to any person, alive, dead or supernatural is purely coincidental.
Romani in Victoria

While I was in Victoria for my daughter’s birthday, I stayed at a hostel in town. When my daughters fell asleep, I went down to the beach to practice poi, better known as the art of fire dancing.

I picked up this nasty habit about a year ago in South Korea where I worked for a short time. I had never really reflected on my roots or why it was that I so enjoyed environments where people played with fire. But both in Thailand and the Philippines I met some amazing fire dancers, and in South Korea I was tutored by a man named Rainbow Manatee who made me my first pair of fire chains.

I brought these fire chains one night down to the beach. As I was walking through some tall grasses to a suitable area, a woman’s voice behind me cried out, “you are on our path, sir.”

I looked back to where two travelers were following my footsteps. “I didn’t realize it was your path,” I answered. The lady there grinned a wolfish smile and said, “actually, we’ve been stalking you since you left the supermarket. Not intentionally.”

The woman with the wolfish grin introduced herself as Mardöll and her companion was Tig. I learned that they were Romani. Or, as she calls herself, gypsy. Ukrainian-Russian Jewish gypsy to be exact. Tig wore muted clothing, typical to blend in with any crowd. Mardöll on the other hand wore a knit hat with cat ears and a splendid long dark skirt.

We went together to the beach and talked for a long time as more Romani joined our circle and built a fire. Soon there was tribal connection from all over the world in our one circle: Bogota, Marseilles, somewhere in Costa Rica. They began to play songs, improvised, sung in Spanish, French, Ukrainian. I told a story of the little flame and my mountain climbing adventure with Rainbow Manatee, when I first learned to spin fire.

Everyone was ready for me to put on a fire show. Unfortunately, the socks I was using for it were polysynthetic, and they just dripped burning plastic. I was all out of fuel, and the show was nothing. I felt terrible for not delivering.

A little letdown, but again we met and I played some songs from Gogol Bordello to make up for it. Mardöll even joined in a duet of a GB song called Illumination.

Later I came when the Romani were not there. I met a couple of cruise ship deckhands who told me I needed to use kevlar for my fire chains. I went to the store and bought kevlar, and returned to the beach. I even had Mardöll’s number, and I texted to ask if she and her companions would show. She said yes, at nine o clock.

I was ready with my fire chains, and I sat waiting. An hour passed and no one came but a nice couple who worked in mental health. We sat and talked for a while about the famous Dr. Gabor Mate. As they got up to leave, I received a text message from Mardöll. Something had come up.

Not knowing what to do then, I drank all the alcohol I brought. I put the fuel into the kevlar chains and lit them. I put my favourite music into my earbuds, and I danced! It was glorious, even more glorious than if anyone were watching. I donned my guitar and sang loudly into the ocean, screaming, crying, laughing!

Stones sat below me. They sung, “You are beautiful!” They looked at me with jiffy marker eyes and wore back flames of little fires. I planted a flower in the middle of them, grabbed my guitar and fire chains, and left.

Who knows when I will see the Romani again? Maybe never. But that’s the magic of it. It’s all a dream. It’s not like the Romani to make plans.

We are guided by greater plans than our own.

There’s a sandstorm outside. Wood Buffalo Alberta has experienced a reduction in precipitation never before seen. So it looks like hell outside. Like Mad Max. Like Tank Girl.
The Second Coming

That don’t matter. I’m safe inside as some Vietnam War scene is on the other side of the glass. At the lodge we have an air intake system that covers all surfaces with a layer of dust contaminated with industrial refuse. This is the apocalypse. Whoa-oh.

No joke. I’m waking up to ash and dust. I’m breathing in the chemicals.

I play with my chains and ruminate over the second coming of Magdalena. She is transfigured, reborn. She has but one task in this world. To tear it down. She is Freyja, and in her fiery seithr she weaves the magic web to condemn the missionaries who paintballed her with scarlet letters.

I am Frey, reborn with only one task. I will burn the sky and spew demons from my smokestacks. I will laugh loudly as I ride the lightning, telling the humans of this fallen world that they did it to themselves. It’s a big joke. And it just keeps getting funnier.

Walk with me firebreather, among this wasteland, and help me to ignite it. We will grow broken wings. We will fly into oblivion.

I sit down at my computer to type my daily online diary entry. This thing is better than a diary. When I talk to the Internet, even if no one’s reading, I feel like there’s a presence viewing my daily life. The NSA perhaps?
Chiropractice
When I was in Victoria I went to a chiropractor. He told me my head was too far forward. I tried tucking in my chin and found that it was harder to breathe. And it all made sense.
I suffer from asthma. In my childhood I did not participate in sports for this very reason. I was never diagnosed, so I didn’t get put on drugs. My mom just thought I was horribly out of shape. Once I gained some independence, I got diagnosed and got some asthma drugs.

In my adulthood, I’ve decided to occupy my body and get off the asthma drugs. So I visited a guru in India to learn about ancient breathing techniques.

It worked! I was able to get off salbutamol AND discus. For those not in the know, salbutamol is a “puffer” but is now being called a “rescuer” in light of recent harmaceutical innovations. Now you can use a discus, which is a steroid you take in the morning and at night, and it completely erases your breathing difficulties so long as you keep buying and using it. This is CLASSIC DRUG PUSHING. There’s no other term for it.

So really, my chiropractor’s observation makes complete sense. I’m gasping for air, so I’m doing everything to open up my throat.

He warned me that my head is like a bowling ball and my neck is like stick. If the ball is on top of the stick, perfectly aligned, the weight is evenly distributed and the bowling ball will stay up there, well-supported, for however long you’ve decided for whatever reason to put a bowling ball on a stick.

Now if the bowling ball is ten millimeters off, you have problems. The stick will keep bending (that is, if it were as flexible as cartilage) and compromising its integrity. So, I’m trying to tuck in my chin. And I look like I have a double chin because of all the excess skin. No one’s said anything.

Who cares what I look like anyway. I’m on the path to spinal health.
Good evening, Diary. I’m really really really really excited after a period of not being excited and in fact feeling like I’m in the celestial scrapheap of all earth and creation. Why?
It's a Wonderful Day

Gosh, that’s a positively unexcited looking selfie. Do I want to fix it? No. Because I’m ironic, dontcha think? That’s a Canadian joke.

So not only is my daughter right into chess, she’s a frikken genius at it. She nearly destroyed me tonight. She’s 8.

But the real reason I’m excited is that my bestie since grade seven messaged me. We’ve been estranged for a decade. I told him I had bad news, and I felt like a horrible human for not telling him sooner.

My mom, who he also considers a mom, is reaching the end of her life. Hence the celestial scrapheap. I’m excited because he dealt with it really well (or so it sounded) and resolved to come and visit us at the end of the month.

Momentarily I’m excited. That had been weighing me down for a while.

I await daddy phone call time in my office. I’ll play chess with my daughter over the phone. We’ll call out the moves. It will be catastrophic.
Bows

Last night I had a vid-chat with my mom. She read a short story she wrote about her life as a woman with a terminal illness. Drama is an everyday reality for her. There’s a lot of backstory in it, but I don’t think she needs to put so much in. To quote my man JL, let it be.

This afternoon, I wanted to do a bow, but I ended up singing songs and talking on the telephone. My bow is unlike bows from other traditions, but borrows a bit from a bunch of different ones.

I didn’t spend enough time in China, but in Japan and Korea, bowing is a very important part of everyday life. The Jogye Buddhist monks do 108 bows in the morning at 4am. These aren’t any ordinary bows. They’re flat out workout routines. I’ll bet those monks have abs of steel.

I caught the news. Obama made a speech about Charleston. I think he sounds like a tired schoolteacher these days, begging the American people to invest a little interest in trying to combat gun violence. And then the agendas. Oh, the agendas. This isn’t a politics blog. But. The agendas.

Maybe if more people did bows. When you bow, you are filling your body with gratitude. You are telling the world that you love to be alive. People who kill people don’t get that. When you love to be alive, then you love life, every part of it.

I’ll do a bow tonight and thank the spirits of the people who are out there supporting their friend-families, giving hugs and consolation. A hug is like like a bow into someone else. You are showing them how grateful you are that they are who they are.

Find someone to hug today, even if it’s the Earth.

Last night I did my stretches and noticed as I was cooling down with flapping fish while listening to some trancey music that I got a bit too comfortable on the right side. I made it to my bed, thinking I’d be up for a dance. But then, snok! Out like a light until 5am.
A Big Budget Dream

I dreamt I was at a university campus dorm with a couple of well-to-do young ladies. Their dorm rooms were beautiful with soft lighting, opulent decor and fine furnishings. What I really focused on, however, were the colours on their walls: smooth cream with ebony trim, warm, passionate and inviting.

They saw my dorm room and it was… functional. Eggshell walls with a modest bed. Nothing on the walls. Guitar in the corner. What? What do you want from me?

I felt their disapproving gazes and quickly knew I had to remedy the situation or I would be THAT guy.

So I went downtown. Somehow I missed the point where the carefully cultivated gardens and well-maintained buildings of the campus extended into the urban decay of a post-apocalyptic city center. No exaggeration here.

Towers were grown over with ivy vines. Rodents scuttled to and fro. Trash toters tugged rusty old shopping carts listlessly across the crumbling streets. I made my way to the Hudson’s Bay Company building, which was dilapidated on every corner and closed shut with chains. Only a door in the lower east was open, so I went in.

Inside a rather cheerful man sat in torn, dirty garments and asked if there was anything he could help me with. I asked for something to spruce up my dorm room with. He returned with some rather nice draperies and I thanked him. Money wasn’t very useful in this torn-apart dystopia.

I wondered if I could go into the rest of the Bay building, but something prevented me. It wasn’t the man. It was just a feeling I had that I ought not enter…

A friend asked, “Why all the selfies?” Good question. I guess I just want to see the transformation that occurs during this period of growth. And it’s my blog.
Alternate World
Changes? Growth? What are you talking about?

Take today for instance. I had a grapefruit for breakfast. And later an orange. Then, close to noon, another grapefruit. I no longer have any apetite for breakfast. My body has become quite small as a result. Even my lunches consist of only a couple of sandwiches and a multivitamin. Mostly I drink coffee or tea and don’t stress too much if I I go to to sleep with hunger pangs.I haven’t a clue to what to attribute this odd change in diet. Also my stretching and dancing have been taking a backseat to more pressing issues. Like sleeping. And dreaming.Is it possible I’m sublimating? I feel that earthly joys don’t stimulate me any more. They once held such meaning for me. Mostly I live in my imagination and converse with people who aren’t present. So here’s why I’m making record of it:

Could I be on to something? Is there an alternate world brushed right up against our physical Earth that we’ve been neglecting?

I feel like I’m growing legs to walk into that world. It would be more understandable if I had gone mad, or if I were on drugs. But I’m clean, I’m neurotypical, and I’m an unoppressed, unorphaned, able-bodied, hetero-passable young Caucasian male who grew up in a politically-stable country with no siblings and three meals a day.

If I’m discovering an alternate reality, it’s not because I’m trying desperately to escape this one. It’s evidence that there might actually be something out there, or rather, in here.

Yesterday I received a letter from Chet. His children lived in a dwelling of sticks and mud in Nepal. During the disaster, their home was decimated. He doesn’t know what to do.

Why must they suffer while I am so comfortable? Perhaps another world is calling for this purpose. As Mardöll put succinctly: An adventure is rarely comfortable, but it’s always exciting.

What were you trying to tell me?

Sometimes I think back to my days in Korea and wonder what I’d be doing if I were there right now. Probably be at the billiards. We’re more used to 8-ball, which they call pocket-uh-ball. In fact, I haven’t seen a billiards setup for a while.
If I Were in Korea

Actually, no, it’s 5am, Monday morning in Gunsan, South Korea. I would most likely be sleeping in anticipation for a shift at Jinpo Chodanghakgyo (Jinpo Elementary School). Except my coworkers would all be different than they were one year ago. That’s the way they roll.

But it’s VERY likely I would have been out Friday/Saturday at billiards. I used to go with keun heung and chagun hyeung. That means big brother and second brother. After pool, you can have a heck of a night with samgyeopsal (unsalted bacon grilled with kimchi, stem mushrooms, onions and garlic) and sauntering around town.

So right now I’d be just waking with the sun on the longest day of the year, on the other side of the world. I’d be slipping on my biking gloves and pulling up my polysynthetic exercise shorts for an hour and a half ride around the lake in our cozy town.

There would be a bit of a cloud cover, after all, it is rainy season. I’d be doing my best to evade the 50+ crowd on the lake path. I would hazard a guess that the average Korean elder is more physically fit than the average twentysomething in Canada.

On my way home from a productive day of teaching fifth graders how to pronounce the consonant /r/ and letting the afterschool class dance to “In the Jungle” for the seventeenth time, I’d swing by the Lotte Mart.

I would think about how much I miss my family and friends. I’m glad I’m back in Canada. Maybe I’ll make my way to Korea again one day. But I’ve got two very important reasons to be here, and every moment of my time here is precious.

Happy Intl Yoga Day, Summer Solstice and Daddy Day.

Right now I don’t feel like writing. But I’ve committed to writing every day. So this, paradoxically, is the PERFECT time to write. Charles Bukowski be trippin.

Forced Writing

Forced writing. What could I say? I can reflect on why I don’t want to write. Is it because nothing special is happening? Well, nothing special is ever happening, or special things are always happening. It depends on how you look at it.

A big part of it is that I feel like the individuality of people is a commodity preyed upon by social media sites. People care more about themselves than others on the Internet, and web 2.0 knows this well. Advertisers love that we love ourselves. It makes it easier to sell us stuff so we can love ourselves more. This in a way is reflective of our place in the world. We must always care about others in the real world. But on the Internet, we can focus on our own accomplishments, dreams and goals without having to consider others.

My job is to ensure the proper reports are sent at the proper times, error-free. If I make a mistake, I will definitely hear about it. In a way that means that people actually care about what I’m doing. I’m wanted for a certain task, and I receive daily feedback on my progress.

I would love to have this kind of attention for my creative writing, or my dancing. To have a group of people scrupulously combing through the thousands of pages of novels I’ve written and demanding that I edit certain details before publication, that would make me smile. That’s how people treat my professional writing job. And I loathe the spotlight at work, because it usually means I’ve done something wrong. What makes me think I would enjoy the spotlight for my creative writing?

Maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would begin to wish I could just write for fun. Maybe I’d get tired of having to fulfill everyone else’s wishes for my writing and just want to write for myself.

This, Diary, is the law of ratios. In the words of Courtney Love, I get what I want, then I never want it again.

Well, I’d say that went pretty well. I’ll have to force myself to write more often. Charles Bukowski:

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

-So You Want to Be a Writer

I continue my fictional blogging hoping that you understand that everything I write is a product of my overactive imagination tainted by certain inside jokes among friends. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s why being half reptile is more of a burden than it’s worth.

I finish up my reports and sigh deeply. Things don’t add up and I wonder how and why after months of doing the same repetitive tasks, half of our primates still haven’t gotten it.

No, if I were pure reptile I would just talk to them on the phone and infect their minds with the imperative required to fix their incorrect behaviour. As it stands, I can only be so persuasive because the primate part of me tells me it’s wrong to mess with people’s heads, and this limits my ability to program others. Trust me, if I could, I would.

But the primate god is all about “free will” and doesn’t understand that things are much better when your collective is unable to rebel, make personal choices, and pursue individuality. Individuality has destroyed your world. Everyone wanting a personal car, a personal TV set, a personal computer and a personal domicile has been poisoned with greed and selfishness, leading them to destroy their planet. Don’t act like it isn’t true; you know it is.

But I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. All the time.

In fact…

This is also most likely my last day working here. If I don’t get fired, I have two more months of, probably, non-administrative work ahead of me in other camps.

Odd dream. I dreamt that I was with the recurring characters of the Two Splendid Ladies. The ones who were unimpressed with my lack of decor in my dorm room at the University, under whose advisement I ventured into post-apocalyptic Victoria to purchase draperies.

Again they framed my dream. This time they were commenting on a certain Ukrainian woman, not Mardöll, but a woman named Vanadís.

They were looking at pictures of her and talking about how pretty she is. And how they would love to get with her. Soon they were gone and Vanadís appeared. But it wasn’t the same Ukrainian lady, but my first lover. I commented on how she looks nothing like Vanadís. But we are the same, she says, and we begin kissing.

I noticed how light this Vanadís was. It was as though she were made of nothing but her outside features without the weight of internal organs and bones. I didn’t feel like I was going to crush her, but at the same time, I felt uneasy with this very light person, who was most certainly my first lover and not Vanadís. But she insisted she was the same person.

“Then why did you lie to me before, telling me about your Ukrainian upbringing, when I know full well you are a painter’s daughter with no such culture?”
“I am the same.”
“How did I not notice you were Vanadís during those months we worked together?”
“I am the same.”

I remember now the few times I talked with Vanadís. I used to work out in the fitness room as she cooked and baked downstairs in the kitchen. I carefully avoided contact with her, until one day I was working in the kitchen and we talked for what seemed like hours. She must have given me her entire life history in the few times we conversed.

How confusing. Are these dreams just fantasy, or do they have a deeper meaning? And why have I met the Two Splendid Ladies for the second time? It’s not like me to dream, let alone to dream the same characters twice!

I underestimate reality. My boss approached me with a big, confident smile and told me, “I received your resignation. That’s terrible news.” He knows I’m going back to school and he seems somewhat proud of me. I’ve only been here a year. I worked my way from hustling to wash the dishes and clean tables to having management responsibilities. Now it’s time for the next chapter.

Oh, no. My writing sounds like something a white male would write. Get it off me. GET IT OFFFF MEEEEEEEE!!!

I’m now bussing through land that is much nicer than the craziness I live in. Clearly the relief coordinator isn’t doing janitorial duties nor does she use the gym. So far she’s been texting me with:

1) I can’t log in to email
2) You’re leaving? and
3) I’m checking people in so I can’t call the manager

…but for some reason she has time to text me.

I got this odd text from her the other day.
“Hey Leif, are you still awake?”
“Yep.”
“Okay…nm.”

Critique: You want to make contact. There’s some embarrassing reason you can’t continue to make contact. Couldn’t you have known that before you initiated? Because now you’re already into it, and you’ve caused weirdness. You may as well follow up, because nothing is weirder than trying to guess why someone texted you out of the blue just to say nevermind.

I keep waiting for real bad luck. I lost my sunglasses. But that’s not bad luck. That’s just carelessness. Bad luck is when you truly couldn’t have done anything to prevent something from happening. You don’t want to lose something on the bus? Check your seat before you get off. Duh.

It makes me wonder what all this luck stuff is about. Above all I think luck is perception. I was unlucky to be in a marriage with someone who didn’t love me. Ask her and she would say if I’d tried harder, you know. Perception.

I was unlucky to find no work and be forced to move halfway across the world for 3 years. But it was an amazing adventure, great experience on the resume, plus I made lots of friends, ate tons of good food and learned a new language.

Sometimes I pray for the unexpected.

I made it to the beautiful Okanagan, where my mom is truly blessed to dwell. It’s a bit hot this time of the year, reaching up to 40 degrees. I arrived late Thursday and since then, we’ve been cramming all we can into the short time I have here.

That’s my just-woke-up selfie, after a night of Okanagan sleep. My mom has a hookup with a rep for a bunch of the majors out here. So we feasted on dolmathes, spanakopita, hummus and tzatziki last night, finishing things off with a Portlandia marathon and a refreshing beverage.

Friday we did what we had to, rushing around from hospital to pharmacy to grocery store. Yesterday we devoted to getting this place clean in anticipation of the arrival of Dellingr and Nótt. There still a bit to do.

Here’s some useful information: if you don’t want to destroy the planet (as much) by using fossil fuels in your fire dance, use ethanol firestarter! It works like a charm. But some precautions:

  • ALWAYS keep your sand and water nearby. First sand, then water.
  • Ensure you are in a fairly isolated area free from dried shrubs and other naturally-occurring kindling. Pavement is best.
  • Wash your hands after treating a ball if you’ve gotten anywhere close to the fuel.
  • IMPORTANT: wind spreads fluid. In your shake off, ensure the wind is blowing AWAY from you. This may sound obvious, but a very experienced dancer in Calgary caught some spray and ended up with 3rd-degree burns.
  • Anything flammable must be more than ten meters away while you dance.
  • Ethanol gel firestarter is crazy stuff. Respect the gel.
On that last point, I did my shake off after ignition. I expected it to behave like usual, a few drops here and there. But this is gel. It lit everything it touched and I had to put it out immediately. That could have been my skin. That stuff just DOESN’T STOP BURNING. So, respect the gel.
I can’t wait to teach. It’ll grow me up.
I think.

This day for me was epic. Not in the way the word is used to describe anything from chewing bubble gum in the nude to sweating after a run. Who am I to say your run sweat isn’t epic? But this was fourteen years in the making. So to me it’s epic.

Twenty-one years ago, I fought with Höðr to be the number one friend of a mutual acquaintance. Months later we were a punk band. For seven years we lived at each others’ houses, ripped it up, did it right, cooled it down, took it around and built it back up. For seven years nothing could stop our awesomeness. But.

Fourteen years ago I drove away from Höðr’s house, thinking I’d see him in a week or so. I’d gotten a job in the city. I was bunking with roommates in The Loop, back when it was two Hs for a room. I fell in love a couple times. Every week I thought of making something happen again, calling up Höðr and doing something. Then I checked out for a decade.

Checking out meant college, meant sitting in my grandma’s car in the Uni parking lot, getting a phone call that she’d made it to the end. Uni, marriage, kids, divorce, then South Korea for a few years to conquer some bad habits.

I’m in Canadaland for a year and Höðr messages me. He’s moving to Vic, where my family lives. I get out there whenever I can. I have some news, I tell him. I feel like a yunowat. He says it’s all good, and I say, no, no it isn’t. Mom’s on death’s door.

So he and his girlfriend hauled it and visited today. The rainclouds parted as the three of us walked along the road in my mom’s neighbourhood. We were killing time while Mom napped.

It was sunny while we dined at a popular restaurant at a lakeside resort, and the sky continued its brightness as we enjoyed an idyllic afternoon at Summerhill pyramid winery, snapping pics, doing a tasting and hijinks.

We hagged and parted, affirmed our intentions to meet up in Vic, and the little white Honda civic sped away. I took my guitar to an outdoor arena and began to play as clouds gathered. Before I finished my set, rain was pelting down. I sang:

The future hangs over our heads
It moves with each current event
It falls all around like a cold steady rain
Just stay in when it’s looking this way

The moon’s hanging low in the sky
Forcing everything metal to shine
The sidewalk holds diamonds like a jewelry store case
They argue walk this way, no, walk this way.

And still I don’t know which way to walk. But I’ll be walking in Victoria, old friend. I hope our paths cross that day. So, don’t walk away, don’t walk away.

To conclude. Höðr and I have met many more times. I relocated to a town in Alberta as far South as Wood Buffalo was north, Lethbridge. It’s very warm here. On my way here I met a witch in Red Deer and sent her this story:

After the cord cutting things became very interesting. I ended up picking up a didjeridoo in Kelowna and eating camel meat with my mom. I wasn’t in Calgary very long, but I did get the chance to visit with an old friend for a little Ethiopian. I’m not sure what I put into the universe for full moon in Victoria, but an intoxicated street man sauntered up to me the night before and said, “you’re meeting with a couple girls?” to which I replied, “No.” He then barked at me, “You’re full of it!”

I took the didjeridoo down to my favourite beach for a practice, and just as I was leaving a couple of girls passed me on the staircase and we ended up chatting. One, who was from the city, was blonde and colourfully dressed and told me she was into all things dark and morbid. The other, from a small town on a distant island, had black hair and was dressed all in black, but claimed she was really into light, happy things. I recited a little Victorian poetry as the city girl stood in the ocean, gleefully enduring the freezing water. I learned they liked Shakespeare, so I recited a monologue from AMND. Soon they asked for a story about hippos. So I told of the stealthy ocean hippos who guard the pearl at the bottom of the ocean. They allow humans with gills to illuminate the pearl if only they are pure of heart. Then the city girl asked me to play, so I played didj until they decided to retire for the evening. For the full moon I wandered back onto the beach and I was completely alone. I realized the moon was the pearl, and to illuminate it, I must play. I played my heart out, but dark clouds kept the pearl covered. I knew then I was not pure of heart and so I left the question unanswered.

She didn’t respond with much, so I pestered her with a part two to the story.
Indeed. Alas the brevity of your reply bespeaks disappointment, as I would anticipate from your letter’s intent. Of course the part of you that trusts your telepathic abilities already had read that in me you would seek maturity, and find petulance; security, and find unmet expectations; and sincerity, the worst, leaving you with tired flattery and evasive judgments. It’s an archetype. Youtube search term: “The Promise”.
However, I was quite surprised that you were preoccupied with the outcome of your inquiry, so much so that you were able to quell your curiosity about the waning moon. I of course had already given you the first two phases: the waxing wherein I met the Two Splendid Ladies for the first time in real life, though previously I had only seen them in dreams, to whom I told the story they requested of the hippos whose pearl is only visible to the pure of heart, and the full phase wherein I determined the moon was the pearl and I was not pure of heart and thus could not see it. The waning tonight was inexplicable. I’ll try.
It began with a dream. Three orbs were presented to me from which I was to choose one. The first orb was the life of a man like my friend Morgan. He is princely, continuing his parents’ law practice, owning a lovely house in Squamish, driving a lovely car and possessing a lovely wife. He is the very image of manliness, though not this sort of machismo posturing that modern men mistake for strength. He’s the man who builds the fire, delimits the boundary lines, speaks for common virtue, and condemns common vice. He’s the man who speaks well with your father, gives sound advice on investment and has the utmost taste in gentlemen’s goods. Truly, I love him, I find no fault with him, but that I will never be him. I could never be him. It’s not even a choice, so don’t let me convince you otherwise. White trash can try to be less trashy, but there’s a glass ceiling to it. Yet still, his orb was presented me and I rejected it. Perhaps I knew I would be living a lie, and could not bear it.
The second orb was more like my friend Josh. He’s lived a racy life. He’s covered in tattoos and piercings. He’s traveled the world, not just as a tourist but as a citizen of the hardcore. The stories he’s told me about the party life of the world would set your mind ablaze. Any man not desiring of the first orb would want this second. Somehow he’s always been proficient at locating the best music, the best scene, the best pubs, the best food, and moreover the best hedonistic delights. He may not be educated in University, but he’s educated in people, in life, in living, and enjoying the world and all it has to offer. Besides that he’s shacked up in Victoria, possessed by a woman a decade his junior. He always finds a way to do awesome things for his community. I could never possess his magic with people, his ability to go down the right dark alleyways, his way of finding the best creature comforts and living life to its craziest. Nor would I make the sacrifices necessary. He knows what to do in dangerous situations and always knows when the party’s over. I do not so much possess this kind of wisdom, and would likely get myself in trouble.
These are the two accepted levels of manhood: for the pagan, Apollo and Dionysus, Baldr and Loki, Osiris and Seth. For the Christian, the Saviour and the Snake. We would approve of either, feeling comfortable knowing the typecast roles they play and afford them their own high positions in their respective courts. But I approached the third orb. What it is I cannot tell. It is the most blurred and obscure of the orbs. Flashing through my mind like searing pain comes the imprint of the face of my former employer, a man who I taught the secrets of stretching, breathing and relaxation I learned in Rishikesh, India. We were friends for a time.
But in this dream it seemed he would have me choose an orb other than the one I was reaching for. The pain of judgement and disappointment coming from this man I had quite admired increased the closer I came to it, but I seized it and realized then that I was alone, truly. Whatever I had chosen, it was some kind of unknown evil. I had chosen a path unlike that of the Saviour or the Snake. But what path would that be? My religious upbringing had only given me two choices! What would I do with this third, cloudy realm for which I hadn’t the slightest understanding? I awoke bewildered and paced about my hostel room. I brought my laptop into the shared bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
I’m not conventionally attractive, I thought. Mostly by choice. I grow my hair long because I like the way it feels and don’t really like the look of short hair on men. I have odd facial hair because I can’t stand the feeling of a moustache, but don’t mind a little chin hair if it saves a few razorblades. I only wash my hair when it’s absolutely necessary and I shower in cold water. I wear what feels comfortable, which for the most part is comprised of fair-trade organic cotton, hemp or bamboo sweats, a high-quality silver chain with no other jewelry, and canvas loafers from Tom’s.
Two things I cannot bear are scents and domesticated animals. They both redden my eyes, irritate my skin and restrict my breathing, sometimes to a near-fatal degree. This limits my choices in friendships considerably. Google image search term: nobility photographs. I thought I might find some good examples of posh doos for the long of hair. What do I come up with? I was horrified. The one photograph of a gentleman with long hair was a man who I’d studied obsessively years ago, a mystic we know as Grigori Efimovich Rasputin. It was then apparent that Rasputin was the guide in the out of body experience of which I spoke. It is rumoured his favour in the court of Tsar Nicholas II owed much to his charm (though perhaps not to his looks) but garnered some infamy with the Tsar’s most loyal men, particularly due to the fact that he was a hit with many an aristocratic lady. He was known for his lechery, or as some sources report, debauchery, which only tends to invite historical mention when a figure is infamous. It should be noted as publicized debauchery really, as aristocratic pockets can buy history in corrupt regimes such as the one preceding the Bolshevik revolution. Our Anton Mesmer was treated with no greater regard in his time although his studies of human interactions were highly influential to modern psychoanalysis.
Anyhow. I digress. It seems to me that the path of Rasputin would be the path of little esteem, of little regard in the third dimension, but somehow useful in the fourth. If he had been the guide in that out of body experience, it would speak to his success in parting his physical and astral forms, leading me to wonder what it would require to pursue such an undertaking. These thoughts spiralling through my mind I packed a few things for the beach for a third visitation. I filled my pack with my pocket video camera, cell phone, headphones, and most importantly, a mason jar filled with a bottle and a half of soju. As well I brought my new didjeridoo. My intent was to make videos, listen to music and have a nice blow. I went down to the beach where the Two Splendid Ladies and been, but as it was midweek, there were no cruise vessels illuminating the beach with artificial light. The beach looked much different dark, and I decided to go exploring. I walked towards the Mile Zero, the part of the beach corresponding to the corner of Victoria’s famous Beacon Hill Park. I had fun with the challenge of working my way across the inlet rock platforms, the inbound tide splashing at my deckshoes. Not a task for the weak at heart, this journey spanned across the greater part of the southern shoreline. As I looked ahead after the great storm, there were no beach fires, or anyone to be found on the coast. There was just the gloam, depth and wet, deep gunmetal grey boulders stretched out in front of me, with no trail or bridges to rely on. Finally I reached a nice beach, the one cove before Mile Zero, arguably one of Victoria’s finest beaches. It’s often secluded at night because the trail to reach it is a darkly forested canopy half a kilometre in length. Not many would tread there without a flashlight, and even then they’d be scared of thieves. I wanted to continue past the beach, and I was able to scale only one rock face before I tripped and my bag hit the surface, smashing the mason jar. The beverage poured out instantly, filling the bag and deadening the electronics. My plans to listen to music and make videos had in an instant dissipated. Having had wet electronics before, I knew exactly what to do. I separated both devices from their batteries and left them disassembled in my pocket until such a time that I could dry them out by fan (this technique has never failed me). But for the time being, this meant a complete blackout for me. I ascended the stairs, not feeling safe to continue across the rocks. I even felt as though I would be better to start back to the hostel to begin the rescue of my electronics. I had no alcohol or entertainment. There would be nothing to do but blow.
It made perfect sense. There was nothing to do but blow. In the story, only the pure of intent could see the illuminated pearl. That didn’t have to be a moralistic message. It just meant that one’s intent was purely focused on one thing. Of course I would not be admitted to the cove at Mile Zero with so many distractions. I was there to perform an uncomplicated, pure ritual.
I walked half a kilometre through the forested canopy and descended the stairs. Two fellows stood there smoking. It’s a great place to smoke. You probably won’t be interrupted. And my intent was not to interrupt them. I simply said Good Evening and they left.
I sat in the centre of the cove on a massive piece of driftwood. Crowning the sky were dark clouds, but directly above me there was a deep indigo clearing perforated by countless luminescent orbs. This, Veronica, is the world I live in, where there are not the three orbs of human consciousness presented to us at birth, but thousands, each accessible to our higher minds and unlimited in their potential to subsume our consciousness. The beauty of this happenstance theatre radiated through my body and filled me with wonder. Would I have had this experience with earbud static pushing out the pregnant silence of the night? With a pocket video recorder trying like a greedy vacuum cleaner to suck up every small magickal moment? Only to spit it out as a vague rendering, a photocopy, a low-quality reproduction that would be understandable to no one but me? Is it possible that these words I write are the closest representations of reality possible, the only technology being my human ability to transmit experience through language? My cosmic awareness drew to a close as the grand indigo circle above me was tucked into dark rainclouds. Before leaving the cove, I went to wash my cloth bag of its alcohol. I hiked up my pants and went barefoot into the water. I scrubbed my bag and out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. The illuminated pearl. I tussled the sand some more and again, an eerie light beckoned from the water. This was it. This was exactly as the story had foretold, but simply not how I’d imagined it. It was the Two Splendid Ladies who I’d come seeking at the beach. Not finding them I walked until all impurities had been taken from me. Now the pearl was shining in the sand below the water, just as foretold.
After researching the phenomenon I discovered that it’s not unusual to find phosphorescent activity in shallow water. That does not however detract from the experience. I returned to the hostel with this final experience, of the waning moon and the glowing pearls beneath the water. I felt compelled to tell this story to you. 
The End.

For Now.

A Tale of Wood and Stone

We live on a rock bobbing gently in a dark sea, a rock swimming unceasingly around a ball of fire. The stone that our home is made of is enduring and mysterious. As it travels, we travel with it, even when we stand completely still. Some of us love our stone home, and appreciate its gifts by trying to give back as much as we take. Some of us use it simply for its resources and continue to ungraciously take more than it can offer.

ImageThings made of stone represent permanence. Something made of stone can be relied on. The reason I am thinking so much of rocks and stones is that our guide on our Dokdo trip (August 24-27, 2013) with Isabu Academy told us a story of rocks and stones that inspired me and changed my perspective about the Korean island of Dokdo. Our guide, Han Dongwan, is knowledgeable about foreign and international politics. He is also a cyclist and knows much about bicycle routes throughout Korea.

Our tour bus stopped at a site on the island of Ulleongdo near a pagoda and a few freestanding rocks. Throughout the trip we had been learning about igneous rocks, granite in particular—the kind of rock that could be found forming natural archways along the shore. We learned about how volcanic magma flows created the curious cliffs and various erratics surrounding us on our journey. Where we stopped, there were two important natural sculptures: Lion’s Rock and Helmet Summit.

This story begins with the people of Usan-guk, an area comprised of Ulleongdo and Dokdo. Their leader decided to lay siege to an island near Jeju-do. From this island, the king took off with a beautiful princess and returned from his victory, proud to have taken for a queen the most astounding beauty of the East Sea. Due to her dazzling desirability, the queen was able to acquire anything from the lascivious ruler whose passion for the queen, burning brighter with each day, bound him to being unable to refuse her a single gift. As the royal coffers emptied and the king’s army and citizens suffered, the king had no choice but to aggressively invade every kingdom within his reach. Driven to war by the queen’s endless requests and the king’s desire to fulfill them, the army became an aggressive force, though it is said they were not particularly intelligent. The queen died and the king fled to the hills to sing of his sorrow. This is the pretext of the region General Isabu came to annex in the 13th year of Silla King Jijeung, which we date AD 512.

General Isabu’s first conquest against the rowdy, uneducated followers of the lusty king was a failure. It was not until a second attempt that the general would set a precedent for future triumphs of cunning such as General Yi Sun Shin’s famous attack formation and invention of the Turtle Ship and King Sejong’s restructuring of Joseon’s cultural and innovative landscape by fostering technology, invention and the creation of the Hangul writing system.

The general planned his attack intelligently and creatively. He ordered his best carvers to create wooden statues of lions. He assumed the rough, starving warriors would be subject to the hallucination that the lions were real. He then sailed by Usan-guk, where he told the dumbfounded soldiers that he would release his lions if those brutish islanders failed to comply with Shilla’s demands for annexation. Whether the soldiers truly believed the general, or they were simply fed up with the lascivious king and his selfish excesses, the citizens of Usan-guk yielded to the ruse and Usan territory was now under the dominion of Silla.

ImageHelmet Summit represents the king’s pitched headgear, and Lion Rock represents General Isabu’s clever plot. Once the story was finished, there was talk in our tour group that another rock formed the likeness of the dead queen, but this remains unverified by the Koreans we have spoken to about this subject.

Let me tell you a little about our tour group. We came from Jeolla-do, where it is said that you can find some of Korea’s best food, including delicious dolsot bibimbap, which is served in a stone bowl. But the residents of Jeolla-do have not always been so fortunate to have an abundance of delicious food. There was a time in our region that many impoverished Jeolla residents embarked on an exodus to the former Usan territory. They named the small, beautiful island they found in the East Sea, Dokdo. In Jeolla satori, or dialect, stone was pronounced dok instead of dol, hence the name, Dokdo—the stone island. The Japanese, prior to calling the island Takeshima, called it an island of wood, Jukjo, from the word for bamboo.

On Monday, we saw the island with our own eyes. The only wood on the island is the wood that was brought to Dokdo to construct a narrow staircase to the top of the igneous slope. Wood is a natural resource, something to be harvested and used. This is another side to this tale of wood and stone.

For our entire trip I had the chance to see Dokdo as an island of stone—something enduring, reliable, and central to the foundation of Korea. I have seen the island portrayed as something unmovable, grave, and monumental through dozens of creative projects on this tour: stories, carved wooden lions, and a 3D animation of the whole island, to name only a few. I had forgotten that to some it might not be an island of permanence and monument, but a territory rich with resources and benefits such as fishing waters, passageways, national borders and regions for strategic military use.

If Dokdo is an island of wood, it is not representative of history, but convenient for the moment; it is not a site of traditions, stories and beauty, but a possession to be obtained. In my three years of living and teaching in Korea I have heard the voices of students, teachers, families and friends whose adoration was directed to the East Sea, to this pristine, beautiful island. But I have not heard the perspectives of those in nations who have recently decided they want to take control of the island for its resources. I do not know if they talk about it, construct museums dedicated to it or invest as much love and care into study and education about it as the Koreans I have spoken with do. I wonder if the kinds of pictures of Dokdo I see on billboards, in museums and framed in homes in Korea are, in another country, kept in offices, hidden in file folders marked “land acquisition”.

Finally, I wonder: Do you know Dokdo? For you, is it an island of wood, or an island of stone?

Image

Wonder Lagoon’s reed weave gates open up and my family is immediately in the water, but I need a rest. I open my laptop to start writing my tale. I see you’re online.

You: having a good time?

Me: yes of course
conquered a fear today
that’s usually good
Y: what fear?
M: scuba diving. I have asthma
they weren’t going to let me do it
Y: oooooo tell me about it
M: actually, that’s a whole story too

You remember that story. Now, voices beckon from outside. I am still a bit tired from the last experience, but a little water volleyball will be nice right now. I whip off my shirt and run to jump in only to realize that everyone in the pool is staring at me. They are all wearing their shirts. I think about it for a moment and then I realize: I’m not in the Philippines anymore. I’m far from the waves above the reef where tanned and shirtless is the dress code. Now there’s a pool of pale faces poking out of neck to ankle swimming armour wondering what in wonderland this half nude foreigner is doing.

Koon Hyeung cries out, “It’s okay!” but I’m not going to be the only one. I put my shirt back on, the animosity burns off instantly and everyone goes back to their water games. We all laugh and have a good time. After showers, it’s time for the next experience.

As dusk hits, we are bussed to a small shack by a river. We drop off our things, don lifejackets, and get a quick lesson in kayaking. The woman asks if anyone has done this before. I reply yes, remembering the days when my family’s friend Wendell would take us out on Lake Okanagan for tours around Rattlesnake Island. The tour manager then proposes that
I don’t need a guide, and I can go solo in a sea kayak. I am skirted up and we take off against the current under a darkening, star-filled sky.

The sea-kayak by comparison is much faster than the guide boats, but I am still responsible for powering myself, turning, obeying instructions quickly and keeping to whichever side of the river the guides request. My personal task is to dodge oncoming motorboat traffic and do my best not to collide with the river kayaks. I’m starting to wish I were relaxing in front of a strong-armed guide. I now see their trick. Get the guy who claims to have experience and you don’t need to send out a
guide. Hoisted upon my own ego yet again.

Nohyun and I question a guide and he is filled with information. He talks about the two combining phosphorescent chemicals in fireflies. He tells us they are poisonous to eat. I never planned on eating them, although I do come from the land of bon-dae-gee. We learn that they have an average lifespan of two weeks, and that they mate at night, using their lights to communicate with each other. He talks of the mangrove tree where they live, a tree that sends out a scent signaling to
fireflies that there is abundant food beneath the tree in the claylike mud. Periodically as we paddle, some fireflies come out to meet us. Strings of brightly coloured plastic netting float by, but I might be the only one here with the night vision to see them.

I’ve been showing off. I’ve been going much faster than I ought to. I’ve been doing as I was instructed and pushing rather than pulling the water with the oars. My arms are spared, but my back is beginning to ache something fierce. We are two kilometers away from the shack, two kilometers that I am not ready to paddle. I need a rest, but I don’t want to voice my pain. The guide next to me whispers: Now we’ll really see something. We’re going to the firefly city.

We edge around the elbow, and there it is. After ten or so Mangrove trees we had seen swarming with fireflies, here is the city: a tree fully lit, looking like festive holiday decorations. The tree is shorter than most, but it is swarming with tiny lights. We sit quietly, spellbound.

Our guide whispers to me a few things about the fireflies passing by my cheek. He tells me they are males, for the females stay within the mangrove trees. Eggs are deposited in the mud beneath the trees, sometimes underwater. Another guide remarks that obnoxious motorboats disturb their habitats. We watch a motorboat putt through, its engine loud and sputtering. He laments that some tours run a motorboat straight onto the mud and up to the trees, destroying countless firefly spawn. Maybe they don’t know about that, I tell him. Maybe they don’t want to listen, replies the guide.

The guide informs us dinner is almost ready and asks us if we want to leave now. Don’t give them the option, I whisper. Nohyun laughs, understanding that this group is too polite to make a decision. Back in the shack we eat coconut rice bound in reeds alongside chicken and squares of pork. For dessert we have a stupid man game where we eat ridiculously spicy peppers no bigger than a pushpin.

A handicraft catches my eye. Most of the things here are woven reed, but this item is a colourful little change purse stitched with brightly coloured stars. It is made of plastic, probably from those colouful plastic strands of river refuse I saw in the night water. The tour manager explains to me that it has been woven by the local women. The woman who made it comes over to our table, combat-prepared and ready to bargain. I just pay her the price she has asked and her look softens into a smile.

I sit here stroking a stinky pale retriever trying to recount everything that’s happened. I’ve never been to this kind of place, a
resort with grass-roofed huts in orbit around a pool crossed by bridges, complete with a poolside bar. I’m not wealthy enough to know this kind of opulence. Someone must have made a mistake.

I have to hand it to Jina: she really knows how to plan a vacation. She’s a veteran traveler. She knows the ins and outs. She knows how to arrange a vacation with as much fun and Korean food as possible. She’s a responsible and caring  single mother in a network of awesome traveling friends with unlimited budgets. Still, she really knows how to save her won, and somehow I am a participant in this latest travel scheme.

Strange occurrences begin with a five am rise on Bohol Island. We’re thrown into the day with no breakfast or coffee. The bus takes us to a shack out in the rural Philippines wilderness, where we are far away from dirty blocks of crumbling cement buildings and clamourous street traffic. Here we are surrounded by banana trees and twenty year-old Filipinos who look no older than thirteen. We see smiling, skinny children running in the streets and laughing. Our driver must be my age, but he has the recklessness of a teenager, honking at every car and motorbike to pass them.

We pull in to a tiny residence and I hear my Korean family pondering why we are not at the beach. We make our way through the property, and discover that the sea is behind it. How did we miss that detail on the ride here?

We walk out into the water on a sand bar, probably a half kilometer of shallow water. We meet our guide, a Korean named Myung Su who has soaked in the Filipino lifestyle. His belly is tattooed. Like the locals he has a soft, round belly with perfectly tanned skin and tight upper body strength. He speaks little English, and less tagalog. I keep my eyes down and only answer crucial questions: Where are you from? How long have you been in Korea? How much Korean do you speak? Jokum. We’re about fifty meters out into the water when we board a small boat that ferries us to a larger boat. You might call this boat a catamaran, but it has a full hull and wooden balancing beams. We speed out to our destination: a coral reef.

As we approach the reef, a serious conversation is taking place. There are four wet suits and scuba tanks. Four travelers can go down, and the rest will snorkel. Who wants to go?

My hand shoots up immediately only to be met with the disapproving gaze of Nuna, who has already told the captain of my medical condition. I wasn’t thinking of the consequences when I casually brought up to Nuna months ago that I can’t scuba dive because of my asthma. She has remembered this. She cares about me much more than I deserve. She discusses it with the captain and mutually they agree that without a doctor’s note, I am unable to scuba dive, as I have been told by numerous doctors.

But the chance is right in front of me! It’s now or never! I squirm with disdain over the conspiracy between the captain and Nuna. I plead at first, mentioning that I am much better now. I haven’t had an attack in three years. Neither Nuna nor the captain know that three years ago, I was addicted to salbutamol and daily doses of discus, a wonderdrug cooked up by GlaxoSmithKlein. The drugs were my saving grace, but still I fell into heaves, unable to breathe during stressful situations or after overexertion. But something, or I should say someone, saved me.

She was a woman of great power who taught me the lessons of breathing steadily and deeply. Even now my companions marvel at the depth of breaths I can take. Since I have put her lessons into practice, I have been feeding from the sun and pulling in oxygen with prana. Who says I can’t scubadive? I can do it! Give me a chance!

After my desperate pleadings, the captain agrees that if I pass the tests, that is, if I can snorkel well, then maybe he will let me scubadive. He will keep close watch on me as I snorkel, and if he so much as sniffs a liability lawsuit, the game’s over, and we’ll pull anchor and head to the island. It’s showtime.

I drop into the water, overly aware of my every action. I need to swim calmly, and enjoy it. I need to be aware of obstacles, and above all, I MUST NOT PANIC. Every action must be done gracefully and deliberately. I dip into the water with my snorkel over my face and do my best to look calm, until I see something. It’s the first two scubadivers. As a snorkeler, I’m able to see the coral reef and the schools of colourful fish from a distance. But the first divers are actually interacting with the reef, swimming about, descending, ascending, and swimming among the fish. Here I am snorkeling, and all I can do is watch others at play. I feel the asthma breath sneaking up on me. I’m stressing. When asthma hits, the breath sounds like a million
voices of the damned souls of hell crying out for mercy. I start to panic, and the feeling of panic only worsens the obstruction in my lungs. I need to resurface. I need to come up for air, real air. I do it as calmly as I can. I emerge on the other side of the boat so the captain can’t see me. I will not miss this chance. I’m going to go. My mind is made up.

I come up onto the craft as Koon Hyeung in yelling my name. Ley-puh! Let’s go! Scuba dibing ka ja!. He’s on my side. Nuna casts disapproving glances. She’s protective. She knows what I’m thinking. She can tell I know there’s a chance I won’t make it. She can tell with a moment’s look in my eye that I overexerted myself and I am beginning to have an attack. I smile and convince everyone but Nuna that I am ready to go. She’s the only one who knows the truth; she knows I am lying. She knows that I might not make it. She’s weeping inside, but on the outside she knows that nothing will stop me, even if she’s the only one who can protect me now. But she also knows that she’s opposed by the captain, who has seen no sign of my illness, and Koon Hyeung, who is set on diving with his younger brother. There is nothing she can do without seeming hysterical. With a firm lip she lets it go and hopes for the best.

I pull on the tight wetsuit, managing as much Korean as I can with the captain. We are laughing together and he has no idea that I was only seconds away from an attack just minutes ago. I’m suited up. It’s time to go. Now or never. I slowly walk down the ladder with the suit sticking to my skin after rigorous instruction from my guide about hand signals. I’m wearing a mask of calm, doing everything I can not to betray my nervousness about what lies ahead. I picture the other two divers, who were able to see everything and interact with it. Coral. Clownfish. Schools swimming around their heads. I want it. I want it now.

I dip in and my guide grabs my suit. He looks me in the eyes as I dip in and struggle for my first few breaths. Something goes wrong.

As the bubbles ascend, I can’t take new breath in. This must be why someone with a breathing condition can’t do this. My guide keeps asking me in hand signals if I am okay. He’s ill-at-ease, wondering why I keep popping my head above the water’s surface. I’m stalling, and not giving him the response he’s looking for. Every time I go under, my own exhalation blocks me from taking a new breath. I get nervous. I keep coming up above surface. My guide is now frantically flashing the okay hand signal, unsure why I can’t submerge. I can’t understand why I just can’t breathe. Everything is fading. That’s it, I’m done.

In front of me appears a specter. It’s the pockmarked Sunsangnim vision from last night. I perceive her clearly now. She is death, coming for me. She marked me out last night, and now, here, in this breathless world, she is ready to reap her harvest. There she sits in my mind clearly, her hospital gown floating in the water. The words of the flying fish dart through my head: You’ll die if you try to go to the stars! Fish can’t fly!

Fish can’t fly. I can’t scuba dive. To hell with it.

I’m going to do this. I’m going to dive. I’m looking into my guide’s face, and he’s expecting a response. I meet his okay sign with an okay sign of my own. If I don’t make it, I don’t make it. If I slip and let go of the spark of life, it was a good ride. I’m not living without this experience. I break the surface. I expect to hear a crash, but there isn’t one. Just perfect, sterling silence. For a moment I float there, unable to breathe. But then new breath enters my lungs. The image of Sunsangnim has been replaced with the image of my breathing teacher. She’s there, giving me instruction about ballooning my diaphragm, to take
deep, calm, steady breaths. She takes me back three years to a cold November day on a beach in the interior of BC, Canada. She is telling me how to overcome my condition. She puts her hand under my belly.

Can you feel that? That’s where your breath should go. There is a central sun in the middle of the universe and a core in the middle of the earth. Bring the pranic energy from the central sun into the core, through your body, down your spine all the way to the root. Keep the energy in the core for as long as you can, and then release. Keep doing this and keep focused. Remember. Om.

I descend unafraid. I am free.

And what a feeling of freedom! Imagine floating weightlessly among columns of coral like canyon walls. The difference with these canyons is that they are covered with soft sealife of every colour and are civilized with many schools of fish so vibrant they look electric. I’m getting hand signals now to release the pressure. We are going further down. To release the pressure, I hold my nose and blow in. Even dropping the tiniest bit increases the pressure on your head. We’re not meant to be here. It’s as improbable for a human to go underwater as it is for a fish to be above water. Yet here I am.

The reef walls drop into infinity. From my vantage point I feel that there’s no limit, that it could drop straight down into the hole in the universe beyond which there are only thoughts and imagination. I switch off the nagging voice of science that tells me that isn’t true, and that there is a sea floor. The only truth now is my perception. Now I’m having fun as my guide gives me the okay to descend further. The walls silently rise beside me, and I am doing the moonwalk in this alien world, a dream in Dr. Seuss colour, stranger than anything he could picture or even dream up. It must have been a half hour that I was down there, but it was in my mind days of exploration amidst the stars and galaxies in this improbable world.

Koon Hyeung is there as well, playing. We are two alien beings, both explorers and children, interacting among these fields of wonder. I start to shiver in the cold, the first time I have been cold in the Philippines. Bit by bit, my guide helps me inflate and ascend. My ears crack. I resurface and take off my gear as I step onto the boat. A new kind of breathing has taken up residence in my body. It is the breathing of relaxation, flooding in with the wonder of doing something unknown and dangerous. I can’t keep the high down. I sit and let the fires of this colourful passion sweep over me. The Koreans are concerned as they see blood streaming down my face. The pressure has popped out my nasal walls, but I again turn off my scientific understanding and realize that this was a ritual drawn with blood, a small sacrifice for a cathartic adventure. Salamat, breathing teacher, for giving me the gift of the impossible. Namaste.

We boat out to Balicasa Island, where a feast of meat on skewers under grass-roofed huts awaits us. The meat sits alongside my new daily staple of mangoes and San Miguel. After we eat, I sit down on the beach and realize I am surrounded by small bits of the coral reef. I see small holes perforating some of them, and these look so much like beads that I start to think that I can make a beautiful necklace for someone special with them. I spend the next half hour collecting these natural beads, and our party is off to another island for a snack of fried bananas and sea urchin. There, the locals try desperately to sell me pearl necklaces. No, thank you.

What I have is more valuable.

We arrive at the warm shores of Bohol somewhat paralyzed from the fast ferry trip. There’s static at the pier when we realize that we can’t get to the Wonder Lagoon without a twenty thousand won taxi trip (about 700 Filipino pesos).

The Wonder Lagoon is Korean-owned. There’s ample Korean dining on the menu and little Filipino food. There is one of those pools you read about in the magazines featuring a swim-up bar adorned with dancing fluorescent lights under palm trees and Romanesque arches. Everything’s subtitled in Hangeul. I may as well still be in Korea. Even the TV blurts out Korean news. Right now, relates Nohyun, Rain is dating the most beautiful pop star in Korea, and sneaking out on his military duties. South Korea is aflame with judgment and scandal. Meanwhile few care about Park Su Min, who cut off his own ear to get out of the service. He isn’t Rain. Rain’s an international superstar who everyone in the world worships after he starred in a box office action hit. Ye gods. Buy the ticket, right?

My Korean family despises the adobo at dinner. I’m the only one who eats it. I chewed the flesh and whispered over the table to Nohyun, the only one in our group willing to understand why kimchi jiggae and kpop news is not what I envisioned for this trip. Dude, we gotta get out of here… let’s just sneak away. Of course Koon Hyeung was also channeling that vibe. We escaped stealthily and caught a bus to Alona Beach.

We’re dropped off in the midst of a typhoon of activity. All the foreigners are here. Levels: beautiful, wonderful levels! From Filipinos with rasta dreads encircling their sun-beaten chests selling blown glass trinkets, to overweight Americans hauling along dark skinned women who look to be ten years old (I’m sure they aren’t). It’s all there on the beach. At first I imagined just a regular beach: a place to take the kids for a nice swim, not unlike the infinite stretches of deserted sand you find even on the Canadian West Coast in the summer. I pictured some pristine white sandy beach with the occasional stray driftwood. The closer we got, in view of the the fire flaring up over tiny rotisserie chickens under huts, skeletal middle-aged men hocking snorkeling adventures, young men wearing off-white wife beaters with blue toques and gold-plated status dropping like albatrosses around their necks, the closer I came to the truth: we are not in Korea anymore.

All those levels! I want all of them! But no. Reality speaking. I may not go and sit in the sand for hours and listen to Marley and Bradley while this glass blower paws at his taut animal hide to attract the consumers. I may not learn more tagalog with the cute chubby woman selling sweet chili crab for her Korean boss while sipping San Miguel. I’m with Koon Hyeung and Nohyun, and I must be here, on this level, just this time. We’re here for a couple of days. Maybe I’ll get the chance later.

But I should give these guys more credit. We sit and are served by the cute chubby woman and learn a little tagalog, some of which is Spanish-sounding (stop…making…fun…of…me!) and we smoke menthols, drink San Miguel and laugh loudly into the night. Something magical happens: I completely stop speaking in English. It’s only Korean from there on in. My companions don’t even notice. Might be the drink. Might be the company. Might be the fact that I’m getting out of myself, and I’m finally getting it.

There’s a lull in the conversation. The lull comes when I look over to my left. There’s this woman standing there as a poi dancer behind her lights up their haloes with liquid light. I pay no attention to the poi. It’s the woman who’s coveting my regard. My eyes do not make out her shape well. All I can see is that she is quite rudely staring in our direction.

Cloaked in the mist of the quickly-gathering fog, she looks like a zombie. Pock-marked face, dark, dark skin, shadowy, deep-set eyes. She looks sick, frail, close to death. It looks like she’s wearing a hospital gown. She’s just standing there, maybe fifty meters away. If her eyes weren’t so darkened out, I would swear she was staring at me. She just stands, silently, staring. I can’t help but think it’s her, my old friend, Sunsangnim. Last I saw her she was wearing a hood for Trayvon Martin. She was healthy at that time, and just getting over a hard time. Of course it can’t be her. Ah, my delusions! I had this terrible feeling in my heart as she broke gaze with me and turned to the left, exposing her emaciated frame and scoliotic curve. I still couldn’t see her face, but I wish I could. I want to prove this wrong, that I could really be looking at this skeleton from my cupboard,
this ghost from my past, just staring at me, alone, on the beach. I don’t want to think about it.

I’ve had too much soju. Too much mekju. Too much imagination. I assure myself that it’s just a local staring at the white foreign guy laughing and talking loudly in bad Korean. Now she’s gone. I trace with my eyes the ways she could have fled. She left instantly, as though she vapourized.

Tell me, is it possible to imagine something as real as this, while still somewhat lucid, and find a realistic explanation? Or do things like this really happen to us all the time? Do we explain our delusions away with justifications in our zealous pursuit not to know uncomfortable things?

Are the spirits among us?

Cebu, Philippines

Posted: January 16, 2013 in stories, travel

“It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have. The important part is the angle you use.”
-Unknown

Not everyone sees life as being a series of stories. Some travel and write and it sounds like this: I went and saw this farm and it was really cool and chilled out with this guy and he was like all tattooed and like there was this chick with a red shirt who kept on saying crazy things and and and….

And I love it, that’s perfect, that doesn’t have to change. It’s a sort of chaotic unordered mess of pretty lights and colours punctuated by periods of the mundane. I’ll bet it’s hard for folks to reach this state while sober. This is why I think partying becomes addictive. Partying is “doing something.” Not partying is “not doing something.” The day after partying is “recovering from doing something.” When you “do something,” life starts, and when it’s done, life momentarily ends.

If however, you’ve broken that line in your mind, when everything becomes a story or series of stories, everything is doing something. Sometimes we write the story. I don’t mean rewriting the story, that is, remembering it in a way that comforts us. I mean that sometimes we pull the strings, affect. Sometimes someone else is writing it. And for those gaps, those moments where no one can be said to be writing it, I think there’s still a writer.

A story never starts, though. We are continually in media res. But we must start somewhere, so this story starts with me, hungover and underslept…

You: made it safe?!
Me: yes
Me: Got in at 4 am. Instead of sleep, we end up drinking too much soju and eating cup ramien until 5:30 and finally hit the hay.
Me: Nuna wanted to stay in the shopping mall, which looked just like a US mall
Me: Koon Hyung and I said nevermind this and hit the streets
You: the thing to do
Me: yesssss
Me: we had mangoes of course
You: YAY!!!!!!!
Me: and one awesome thing
Me: but I don’t know if I can type it to you
Me: I think I’ll have to tell you in person
You: ok but write it down somewhere so you don’t forget  ^_^
Me: I shall.. ok back to the streets

So what was that awesome thing?

It takes a little explaining. I’m in Cebu with Jina, Nohyun, Nuna, Koon Hyung and three little darlings, Myungji, Jiyun and Hiyun. Nohyun is a year older than me, and the rest are about ten years older than me. Myungji is Jina’s daughter, the youngest, and Jiyun and Hiyun are five and six. We all woke up together, had breakfast and decided to look around the area. We were caught by a mall. I was not expecting to see this side of Philippines. It looked just like a Canadian mall.

I abandoned the party in a corner where there were getting fantastic deals on swimming shorts and ran into Koon Hyung and
Nohyun. I told them we should hit it, but Nohyun got this look in his eyes and said more or less, but I want to shop!

I look at Koon Hyung. Here’s the weird thing about me and my older brother. We speak some of each other’s language, but not enough for a rolling conversation or to be clear about what we want from each other. But we seem to want exactly the same things at the same time. I just can’t explain it. Always he pats my back and tells me he wants to have deep conversations with me. It’s odd. He should have a deeper connection with Nohyun. But no matter how many Korean respect things Nohyun does, I always end up the one who connects with Koon Hyung for the important stuff. We’ll spend long periods of time with strong silence punctuated by snippets of dialogue in either language.

So he’s right into splitting, and we do just that. We get out onto the muddy road as the wind is dancing around and droplets of rain sporadically spit onto our faces. I suggest we eat mangoes and he tells me Nuna has all his money. But I insist, and at some point and I buy us a couple of perfectly ripe mangoes, which we open easily and let dribble down our chins and over our fingers. We learn our first word of cebuano tagalog. Salamat: thank you.

We walk past an inner city farm which we encounter again on the way back. Here skinny dogs and goats race around, nibbling scraps of mushy melon skins littered around the farm. We walk past to a point where we can see through a tiny hole in a concrete divider a big family at rest. Obscuring the vision somewhat is smoke coming from a giant coal pit. Farmers ride their bicycles back and forth on the property. The smell of the smoke is deep and rich; it smells like the colour black, or darkest brown. The big Filipino mama catches my eye. She looks healthy and vivacious. She lifts up her hand and beckons me to come in. I am mesmerized. Of course I will come in, past the rotting fruit peels and scurrying goats. Of course I will sit with your family. I hesitate and she motions again, come, come in, foreigner. Koon Hyung sees what is happening. He breaks the trance. Ka ja! He calls, and he is pulling me out as I notice that without thinking I have walked through the entrance and into the field, and now I am being looked at nonchalantly by goats, skinny dogs, chickens and farmers. Ka ja! I shake my head and walk with him, looking back once. The look back. The thing people do when they want to think once more about that person or experience. It’s a tell.

We come back to our little on-the-cheap hotel called San Francisco Inn. Oh, how I love on-the-cheaping. I get the feeling there would be no inner city farms minutes away from a five-star. We wait as the bus driver gets antsy because the rest of our party is still shopping. They’re half an hour late for the bus because they were busy waiting in line to bring back burgers for lunch. I realize that we have been in two totally different Philippines.

We bus to the ferry terminal where we learn that due to big waves, the 2pm sail will be cancelled. Nohyun is looking very nervous, sort of shaky the way he gets when something isn’t going the way he thought it would. I take his arm and look him deeply in the eye to try and dispel his anxiety, hoping he will understand my message.

“Nohyun, listen. There’s nothing we can do. Someone else is writing this story. Maybe we need to wait for a reason.”

In trying to trigger something in him, I trigger something in myself. There must be a reason. While I am changing the tickets, I ask the teller, who looks like she’s twelve (all the girls in the office do) if there’s anything fun around here. “Fort San Pedro,” she replies.

I tell our group we can either wait in this dark, sweaty room worrying about the boat, or we can go to a fortress. There isn’t another sailing for an hour and half, so after much deliberation, we reach a decision. We walk about five minutes and discover this groovy old fortress used during the time of the Spanish Occupation in Cebu. It’s beautiful now, decorated with flowers and adorned with freshly-painted signs in the old script labeling different rooms with different functions. One of these rooms has been converted into a very small exhibit area with four glass cases, with all but one empty. There we learn about the vestidor, a white vest worn by Hipolito Labra, a Katipunero who served from 1913-1967, the longest term during Cebu’s
opposition to the Spaniards. He believed the vest made him invulnerable to attacks. Considering how long he hung in there, maybe he was onto something.

We return with ten minutes to board. I sit with Koon Hyung on the rear deck of the ferry and we enjoy silence punctuated with small conversations in either language. He points out at the water and says: Flying fish! Flying fish! I look out and sure enough, there they are, these brilliantly- coloured fish jumping as far out of the white stream of the boat as they possibly can and dropping back in. Every time he sees one, he just yells, flying fish!