Everything counts in small amounts

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Students' First Day at Lih Jen

I met my students for the first time on Tuesday. There are 32 of them so far. The number keeps changing. They seem decent. Their English ability varies widely. The best speaker can form complex questions in complete sentences, although she has a thick accent. The worst speaker does not know his English name and can not respond to simple yes/no questions. Teaching them is going to take some work. But, that's always the way.

I spent the first day observing and aiding my Chinese partner, Sophia. It was deathly boring. The lessons were all in Chinese, so I understood little, and most of it was introduction, review, or clerical work. I introduced myself, stapled letters into the student's workbooks, and helped with classroom management. By the end of the day, there was little for me to do and I sat at Sophina's desk in the back of the room reading the newspaper. She didn't seem to mind. She's nice enough, if a little disorganized. I hear she doesn't have a lot of experience teaching. Whatever I did she liked it. She gave me a big bow at the gate as I left and told me she was very lucky to have such a good partner. I don't believe her.

Today, from what I gathered, Sophia had a lot of clerical work to do and little planned in the way of a lesson. Here English is spotty so I have to infer a lot. She asked me to "take care of the students" while she worked. This translated as teaching the students for three hours. The English teachers were told they weren't going to start teaching until Thursday, so I didn't have anything prepared. It's nothing new honestly. I used to go into class with nothing prepared in Korea on a regular basis. But, it did take a little more hustle because I didn't have the students broken in yet or wasting-time materials ready at hand. Nonetheless, the lesson was okay for what it was. It did the job: kept the students occupied and relatively quite.

I was officially supposed to start teaching tomorrow. But, that's not going to happen because of typhoon Talim. The earliest I'll have the kids is Friday and it may be as late as Monday. It's a shame, too. I spent a good part of last week preparing lesson plans and my classroom. The place looks okay. It was incredibly messy when I arrived. The teacher before me was in the room for several years and it showed. There were petrified melon slices, dead cockroaches, and layers of dust, dirt and trash. I might have gone too far the other way though. My room resembles a 1950s mental ward now, with its shiny beige tile floors, glossy bare walls, and vast dead space. I plan on putting the kids to work making decorations.

The view out of my room is nice. There's a cute courtyard with palm trees, a garden, and a basketball court. The greenery and tall buildings in the distance create a modern, tropical feel. I can see the world's tallest building, the Taipei 101 out my window, too, which heightens the whole effect. I didn't get a very good picture of it on Tuesday. The 101 was obscured by haze and pollution when I took the picture above. You can barely make out its outline between the first and second buildings from the right in the foreground. I'll wait for a sunny day and take a better picture.

Reitzes Survived Katrina

I got the below message from my aunt. The distant New Orleans Reitzes -- descendents of my great-aunt on my mother's side -- survived hurricane Katrina, but likely lost everything. My thoughts and prayers are with them and all of Katrina's victims. Please donate if you haven't already.

-----Original Message-----
From: Linda [E-mail Address Omitted]
Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2005 8:43 PM
To: Mikey Reitz; Lisa Reitz; Lexann Henderson-Jackson
Subject: Margaret and Richard

I thought I'd pass along what is up with the southern part of our family tree...

John got Margaret to Malcolm's house in Sugarland Texas. In true John style, he thought he'd wait to leave on Sunday- figuring everyone would have left New Orleans on Saturday. They left Sunday at 2pm and got to Malcolm's at 4am. Traffic was obviously awful. Margaret is pretty shook up- figuring she won't have anything to go back to. She's 88 now and in poor health so it's hard for her as you can imagine. She figures it will be several weeks before she can go back to New Orleans, I'm thinking it will be more like several months. Margaret, John, John's wife and child are all staying with Malcolm's family indefinitely.

Richard WAS going to go to a local church with a neighbor during the hurricane- but ended up staying at the neighbor's house. They are OK - the home is OK. He can't leave the area as the roads are impassable - he has no electricity.

Talim in Taipei

I'm experiencing my first typhoon tonight. Talim is forecast to make landfall off the east coast of Taiwan early tomorrow morning. It's already rainy heavily and the wind is gusting. I'm safely inside, but the buzz of rain hitting the building is constantly in the background. Talim is a category 4 (out of 5) typhoon. At its worst, it is supposed to produce gusts up to 141 mph (184 kph). Everyone is off tomorrow. I don't go to school, Jiyeoun's classes are canceled, and Ceilo and Mrs. Lu don't work.

It's like a snow day in North America. Everyone sat around work prying for a "typhoon day", passing on the latest bit of news, and discussing what they'll do if school is cancelled. The announcement came in around 2 p.m. that public schools were closing at four and a few people cheered because they wouldn't have to teach their evening classes. Jiyeoun met me at work after her school orientation and we traveled home together on the metro. It was packed with school children and government workers trying to beat the storm home. The mood was festive and calm.

When I left this afternoon, my coworkers were debating whither we will get Friday off as well. Talim's eye is predicted to pass just north-east of Taipei by tomorrow morning and move off the western cost of Taiwan by the evening. But as with all typoons, no one really knows. I wouldn't mind a four-day weekend even if two of the days were spent indoors. It says in my contract typhoon days are paid. I'll take the money and donate it to the victims of hurricane Katrina. I hope you will too. Ironic, donating money gained from a typhoon to help victims of a hurricane. Such is life.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Apartment Search Continued

We spent the whole day Saturday looking for an apartment. The plan was to look at a few places and then go to the apartment Jiyeoun had the contract for. I'm not exactly sure what happened. I think Jiyeoun realized that I would probably be disappointed with the apartment she chose after seeing my reaction to the first few places we saw on Saturday. I turned up my nose at a some places she thought were "okay." She told me that I might have lowered my expectations if I had been with her last week when she was searching for apartments. There are a ton of old, dirty, funky flats for rent in Taipei. Shit-holes really. So the search continued.

I found a place I liked. It was clean, perfectly located across the street from Jiyeoun's university and close to my school, in a busy district, close to shopping and good restaurants, sunny, and had a balcony and a common garden patio. The only drawbacks were that it was small, expensive for it's size, and lacked some of the furniture we wanted. It's my first choice by far. But, Jiyeoun's not sure. So we keep looking.

We took a break from the apartment search today for lunch. Mrs. Lu cooked us a gigantic, wonderful meal. It included fresh fish, porridge, fried greens, pork, shrimp ball soup, tofu, bitter melon, noodles in brown sauce, and marinated tofu with roots and carrots.

Mrs. Lu is a wonderful cook. She made the whole meal in under an hour, which I found amazing. Honestly, part of it was a stalling tactic. She told us as much.

The Lus are putting the hard sell on their offer for us to stay with them. We had a big talk about it this morning and they genuinely seem to want us to stay. I think they like the extra excitement of having more people in the house. And, to their credit, they understood our apprehensions even before we voiced them. Jiyeoun and I are going to have to think about it more.

Jiyeoun's the one who has to do the thinking, really. I've made up my mind. The Lus' place is very comfortable and they are really first-class people. Having them to help and show us around would add a lot to our experience in Taiwan. Plus, they seem to genuinely enjoy us being here and are laid back enough not to worry about the usual small daily annoyances that go with living with non-family-members. Jiyeoun's got some thinking ahead of her. But, she seems to be leaning toward staying.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Beef Noodle Soup

Name: Beef Noodle Soup
Description: Thick wheat noodles in beef and pepper broth with beef chunks and greens. Pickled and sliced root as a side dish. Sweetened cold green tea.
Location: Guting district, Taipei City, Taiwan
Price: 102 TWD, 3.66 USD.
Taste/Price Ratio: Above average.

Taipei Day Seven

So much as happened since the last post on Monday. It's impossible to recount it all here. I started work at Lih Jen, the private elementary school where I'll be teaching English. There's a large staff of 18 English teachers from all over the world: South Africa, England, Canada, America, the Philippines, and India. It's the most diverse working environment I've ever been in. Everyone seems friendly, the academic coordinator is good, and the school is fairly organized. Classes will start on Tuesday, August 30. I spent the week in orientation meetings, preparing my classroom, and planning lessons. It was all so new and exciting. The time went fast and it was enjoyable. I'll write more about the school later, when I take some pictures and meet the students. It might be pretty interesting for people who've never been to Taiwan. The school layout is very different than South Korea or North America.

Meantime, Jiyeoun's been very busy looking for an apartment. It's turned out to be much more difficult than we anticipated. The places we saw on Monday with Mr. Wu didn't fit our requirements. The first place he took us too was a six-story walk-up. There was no kitchen, a single room, and a bathroom that you shared with the occupents of the five other rooms on that floor. It was cheap, only 6,500 Tiwanese dollars or 200 USD a month. But, it was completely inappropriate. (Picture below)

The kind of place we're looking to rent -- a furnished one-bedroom with a bath and a private entrance -- is fairly unusual in Taiwan. Most people live with their families until they get married and then buy a house when they move out. Students rent or share rooms when they go to collage and then return home. So the majority of properties are either larger houses for sale or dormitory-style rooms with shared bathrooms and no kitchen for rent.

Jiyeoun has had a little luck. But, it's taken a lot of work on her part. Everything is in Chinese and she has to travel all over the city to see the places in Taipei's broiling hot weather. The best place she's found so far is on the outskirts of the city. It would be a 30-45 minute commute for us. I haven't seen it yet. But, she tells me it's in a slightly rundown neighborhood on the third floor of an older building. The interior is very clean, light, and furnished with everything we would need. The picture is below. It is very small by American standards: approximately 204 square feet or 56 square meters. But, it's okay by Korean or North East Asian standards. It costs 14,000 Taiwan Dollars or 345 USD.

Jiyeoun picked up the contract from the landlord last night. Of course it's all in Chinese. So, Mr. Lu and Cielo, his daughter, have been looking it over. They say the contract is unusually long and extremely detailed. It lists the individual pieces of furniture and the costs for replacing them. It also states we should clean and launder everything before we leave. Mr. Lu seemed to think the contract was a little strange. I thought it was good to have everything laid out so there were less questions and it appeared there were no unreasonable requirements. Although, there is a risk that the landlord will try to keep some of the our substantial, three-months deposit on the pretense that something in damaged even if we keep the place clean. That was Mr. Lu's concern. He pointed out that the contract states that we should replace anything thing that is warn or damaged. But, "worn" is obviously a gray area. Mr. Lu suggested we cross it out in the contract.

Our plan is to go to the place tonight so I can see it. If I like it, we'll talk about the contract. We're going to ask to change the vague language and disadvantageous arrangements. We'll move in if the landlord is amenable.

Monday, August 22, 2005

One Day in Taipei

We've arrived in Taipei, if you couldn't tell from my last post and the picture above. My father-in-law's good friend, Mr. Wu, met us at the airport with his family: wife and youngest daughter. They were incredibly friendly and talked for the whole hour-long trip from the airport, sometimes all at once and usually two at a time. Jiyeoun commented later what a huge difference it made to have someone, even just acquaintances, meet us. It made the endeavor much less lonely. And, they seemed like such good contacts. Just in the drive back from the airport they offered to take us to a hot spring, teach me golf, go hiking, and invited us to live with them. They saw us to the hotel and Mrs. Wu fought with the clerk to get us an extra discount on top of the 10% discount Jiyeoun already got. Today Mr. Wu is going to meet us at 10:30 a.m. and take us around to look at apartments. He's already been doing research and talking to realtors. Amazing.

Jiyeoun is doing an amazing job herself. The place she found for us is called the Ferrary Hotel. The pictures above were taken from the window of your room. It's right down town, a 10 minute walk from the metro, clean, has in-room wireless Internet, and includes free breakfast all for about $50US. Mr. and Mrs. Wu were amazed at the deal. As their daughter said, "I didn't think you could get a place down town for less than $100 dollars and it's not small." I guess she expected a dumpy, hole-in-the-wall for the price we were paying. So, there it is, Jiyeoun did a better job than the locals thought they could. All thanks to her diligence and the Internet. I don't know how people moved to other countries before the Internet was invented. It must have been like shooting in the dark.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Obvious Foreigner Story

I have the quintessential obvious foreigner story. (I know there are a lot of details to fill in between the weather post and arriving in Taipei. I'll get to that later. But, on to more interesting things first.) So, Jiyeoun and I have arrived in Taipei. We checked into our hotel at 8:30 p.m., local time. So we have a few hours to kill before going to bed, lest we be accused of being geezers. And, no one wants that. So, we headed off to Ximending, the Korean equivalent of Myoungdong, or the American equivalent of... well... there is no equivalent really. We didn't want to got shopping. So we wondered around looking for a place to drink. You know, inexpensive, time consuming, and easy: drinking. We wondered around Ximening, which is the cool shopping district the United States never had, looking for a place to drink. Amazingly, there is none, or nothing obvious at least. It seems Taiwanese keep their drinking and shopping strictly separate unlike the Koreans, who mix the two happily. So we're wondering around the shopping district, bobbing our heads left and right trying to take it all in, looking for a place to get our drink on, when this woman calls us from across the street. I don't know what she was saying. It was all in Mandrain. But, I assume it was something like: "Hey sucker. I'm looking for someone to screw and you look like the perfect target. Come over here and let me screw you. That's right, that's right, over here. SUCKER!" So us, being the new virgin suckers we were, decided that the evil woman's den is the only place we can have a beer. We walk in and look at the menu. Jiyeoun, with her decent Mandarin, considering she's only studied over the phone in Korea, says we want a beer. "Beer," the woman says in Mandarin -- even I can understand what she's saying at this point -- "Sure we have two kinds of beer: Corona and Taiwanese Beer." (Okay, don't ask me why the two choices are a cheap Mexican beer and a random, unnamed "Taiwanese beer." I mean first of all Corona's not good enough to be the representative for all foreign beers and second of all why is the domestic beer simply called Taiwanese beer? Presumably there's more than one domestic beer. Shouldn't they distinguish between the two? Maybe not since we're such obvious foreign suckers. I guess evil woman assumes that we wouldn't know the difference even if she told us. She's right. We don't know the difference now. But, if she told us the name of the beer, we'd eventually learn to tell the difference...) So we tell her: "Taiwanese beer please." She says, doesn't ask, "Large." This is what goes through my head: "What did she just say? How much. I think she said how much." I tell Jiyeoun in English, "She said how much." Evil woman says, "Large." Jiyeoun says, "She's saying large." Me: "Large?" Jiyeoun: "Yeah, large." Me: "Okay, so large." Jiyeoun, "Yeah, large please." Evil woman, "Two large?" Me: "Okay two large." Evil woman, "Two large." So we got two large beers. Oh my god. It turns out large was four-beers worth. It was 1,500 cc. Or, in American two half gallons of beer. A gallon of beer between the two of us and Jiyeoun doesn't drink beer. Who is going to drink a gallon of beer? Maybe a group of four guys starting a night on the town. But, not some milk-white American guy and his over-eager, Mandarin-speaking wife. Evil woman saw us coming and suckered us into buying a gallon of beer. The funny thing is that for all her chiselering the gallon of beer only cost us $15 USD, which was kind of funny to me. This woman went through all this trouble to extort an extra five bucks from us. I don't even understand how it's worth it on her end. She doesn't own the place. She just works there. But, she still took to time and effort to cheat us out of five measly dollars. It's strange. Is it for pride? Or, does she really need the money? It's got to be something else I don't yet understand...

Taipei Weather

We leave for Taiwan today. I checked the weather in Taipei. It's supposed to rain there for the next five days. The humidity on average is 70%, the high never drops below 90, and the chance of rain is no lower than 80%. Here is a sampling of the detailed weather report:

8/21: Thunderstorms likely. High 89F. Chance of rain 90%.
8/22: Scattered thunderstorms in the morning, then mainly cloudy during the afternoon with thunderstorms likely. Chance of rain 80%.
8/23:Thunderstorms. Highs in the low 90s and lows in the upper 70s.
8/24:Scattered thunderstorms . Highs in the low 90s.
8/25: Scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the low 90s.

Yuck! I think I'm going to start missing the sun really quick.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Found Haiku 3

From Broken Joe by Joe Blades:
Joe lives artist life.
Often misidentified,
he is so much less.

Republic of China Visa

I got my visitor's visa for Taiwan from the Seoul R.O.C. Consulate today. I was really impressed with the speed and efficiency of the whole process. The U.S. State Department could learn some things from Taiwan. First, the process only took three days, from the day I applied for the visa to the day it was issued. Compare this to 10 days to 6 weeks for the United States. Second, I didn't have to wait more than two minutes for service. It can take 30 minutes to 2 hours to talk to someone at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Third, the woman at the window was courteous and knowledgeable. She smiled and could answer all the questions we asked. The opposite is the case for the Seoul U.S. Embassy. There, the people are short, rude, rarely smile, and frequently have no understanding of the laws they are supposedly there to enforce.

Not many U.S. citizens know how poorly our State Department treats non-citizens. We rarely have to deal with the bloated bureaucracy, other than to get a passport, which is a relatively painless process. But, talk to anyone who has immigrated, visited the United States, or has a relative who has. They will tell you the process is a farce, as I told the consular generals at the Seoul Embassy frequently during the 10 months Jiyeoun and I were filing for her immigration visa.

Some American citizens might be included to think the State Department poor treatment isn't their problem. They'll never have to apply for an immigration or visitor's visa for the U.S., so they don't care. The problem is that the State Department's shitty treatment of foreign nationals comes back to hunt us. The receipt below is proof. It shows I paid a fee of 110,000 won, or $110 USD, for my Taiwanese visitor's visa. The fee for non-Americans is 40,000 won, or $40 USD. U.S. citizens have to pay nearly three times the regular fee. It's retribution for the ridiculous service and exaggerated fees Taiwanese have to endure when applying to visit the United States. So, not only is my tax money going to pay the wedges of the do-nothing bureaucrats at the State Department, but their crappy service is costing me money on top of it.

Some of the differences between the service are simply a result of the volume of people applying for U.S. visas. I was literally the only person in the Taiwanese consulate when I turned in my application. There are regularly lines of a hundred to two hundred people applying for visas at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. So the extra wait for an American visa is not entirely the State Department's fault. And, if you're being generous, you could also grant that the visa fees might need to be higher to pay for the technology necessary to transport, store, and process the large number of applications the U.S. State Department receives. Although, the lack of such technology and the fact that U.S. visa's typically cost three times those of other developed countries argue against such a generous assessment.

Regardless, there are other serious problems at State that have nothing to do with the volume of applications they receive. Like the difficulty of negotiating the maze of voice mail, email, and useless receptionists in order to talk to a live person with any authority. Or, the lack of State Department representatives capable of explaining their truly arcane regulations and their complete apathy when confronted with their incompetence once you do get through to them.

So, to sum up: U.S. State Department bad, R.O.C. Consulate Office good.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Korean Vietnamese Restaurant

On Thursday, Jiyeoun, Mom, and I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in Hannam.

It was in a beautiful location next to a plush, green rice patty on the edge of an apartment complex.

The interior was finely detailed with burnished wood and bright paper and wood ceiling tiles.

We ordered Wolamsam. I don't know what it's called in Vietnamese or English. You're given a huge plate of vegetables, a crockpot full of water, a plate of thinly sliced raw beef, a bowl of hot water, and a stack of rice paper.

You place the beef in the crockpot after the water comes to a boil. You dip the rice paper in the bowl of hot water, place it on your plate, and pile vegetables on top. There's everything you'd want: lettuce, cilantro, basal, bean sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, pineapple, tomatoes, shredded radish, and more. There are also three sauces: peanut, green pepper, and red pepper paste. You place the freshly cooked beef on the pile of vegetables and wrap it in rice paper. The wet rice paper is sticky and holds well. You're left with a Vietnamese spring roll of sorts. It's delicious.

Jiyeoun and Mom loved it so much it made them crazy, as you can clearly see from these pictures. Mom was a little crazier than Jiyeoun.

It's one in a long line of recent meals we devastated.

We were rewarded with a steaming cup of supper strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee.

It's a good thing I don't live in Vietnam. I'd be as fat as a hippo.

Jebudo Trip

Last Friday we went to an island off the west cost called Jebudo. It's the
red spot in the inset on the map below.

The island is know for two things: the shallow water surrounding it and excellent fresh roasted seafood. We went there for the food. We picked a restaurant with a patio overlooking the beach. The weather was hazy and grey, so there wasn't much to look at.

But, the food was excellent. We sat around a grill inset in the table and everything cooked in front of us. We picked the cooked seafood directly from the grill, pulled it from it's shell, and popped it in our mouths. We had fresh shrimp, clams, muscles, and oysters. Yum!

It was hot and dangerous, though. We were sitting inches away from three giant, burning charcoal bricks in muggy August weather. I was sopped with sweat. But, of more concern were the tiny sparks that would pop off the shells, smack us in the hands and face and burn our skin. I was worried someone was going to loose an eye. We got cotton gloves to protect our hands. But, the shells were unbearably hot if you picked them up even with the gloves and they made my hands sweat. Grandma didn't seem to mind. She's wearing one of the gloves in the picture below.


I might have benefited from the gloves. Not to protect myself from the shells, but to drink soju with. I placed my shot glass too close to the grill and burnt my fingers and lips trying to drink. The glass was so hot.

We soldered on though, doing our duty, eating our fill. The shrimp were most popular. We ate three orders of the size in the picture above. Mom especially enjoyed them.

We ate like kings. Later, they brought us out some kalguksu, a thick soup with seafood and fat wheat noodles. My stomach was bursting, but the soju buzz I had going numbed the pain and I ate on. They gave us a small plastic bucket for the trash. We filled it half full of shells from the all the seafood we ate.

After lunch, we went down to the beach. This brings us to the second thing Jebudo is famous for: the shallow waters surrounding the island. The seabed runs away from the island at such a slight incline that the beach grows by half a mile at low tide.

The bridge running out to the island is set up from the seafloor on four foot concrete pillions. At low tide the sea barely visible on the horizon from the bridge. However, at high tide the bridge is totally submerged. There are gates at each end of the bride that close when the bridge becomes impassible. There is a sign outside the gate house that lists the latest island departure time. It was 7:45 p.m. on the day we went. Meaning, if we didn't leave the island before that time, we would be stuck there overnight until the tide went out and the bridge reemerged from the water. Trippy, huh?

You can get a sense for how shallow the seabed is in this picture. The ocean is just barely visible in the distance.

We walked around on the beach for a short time to speed digestion. It was just long enough to watch Cash, my in-law's newest dog, run around after Yeppie and sniff her butt. Cash is male and hasn't been fixed yet and Yeppie is female. It's funny to see, partly because Cash is half Yeppie's size and couldn't do anything if he got a chance and partly because Yeppie has no interest in him, seems to dislike him.

With that, we got in the car and I slept all the way home with images of butt sniffing dog's dancing in my soju-pickled brain.

RIP Relative Collective

It's a sad day. Time to admit the obvious: The Relative collective blog has died. I created the blog back in December as a way for the Kerson-Ritz family to stay in touch. In theory it was a great plan, ripe with all the potential that the Internet brings. The blog would be an easy way for our far flung family to share, interact, communicate. We would build a warm loving community of Kersons and Ritzes. The first batch email and post reflect this soaring optimism.

Hello and welcome to A Relative Collective, the site Roman Polanski called, "Hommage a le maigre." Join now and, for a limited time, take advantage of special member benefits: stay in touch with other collectivites; share your deepest secrets and darkest thoughts; accrue street cred and positive karmic energy; and whiten your teeth with ARC's new improved fast-acting, scientifically tested fluoride emulsion salve. To join post your name and e-mail address in the comments section below and a Relative Collective representative will contact you with information on how to join. We'll see you online future collectivite!

But, this exuberance was quickly, definitively crushed. Over the subsequent months five people joined. My sister joined twice with different email accounts. One person asked for an invitation and never joined. Several people promised to join and never did. And, three people, including me, posted. The longest post, short of my blathering ramblings, was from my father:

I will be adding...astute commentary and in-depth psychological insights into the human condition." I know. I know I said this, and I know that I got your hopes up. They are coming. These things take time and profound insight, which does not come every day.

But you have to admit (well, you don't 'have to' really, but, and if you do, please admit it to yourself as I don't need to hear about it) that quote about love was good. And that certainly covers a big, or at least the best, part of 'the human condition'.

But other more profound things are eluding me right now.

I have added a few photographs that I like.

But I'm waiting for someone else to show up here. Although a few folks have signed up... nada, nothing, zip.

Perhaps people are not be saying anything because the two sides of the families don't know each other and so they are feeling shy. Consider this your formal introductions; Lex/Bill and Linda/Dallas and Mike/Terri (Isaac's aunt's & uncle & their spouses) and Robin/Ron and Joe/Dana (Lisa's cousins & spouses). Jack/Caroline (Isaac grandfather & his wife), Sam/Katah (Isaac's uncle & wife), Peter, Gabby, Sofia, Josh, (Isaac's cousins and Sam's children) and of course, as everyone knows, Jiyeoun is Isaac's lovely new wife and "Peach" is Justine's other name; which she some times uses with close family members. (If I have forgotten anyone I pre-offer my deepest apologies, I don't know who Isaac sent invitations out too.)

His post gives you a feeling for the blog's general tenor: desperate pleading for attention. I did my part by writing an overly detailed description of how to post images to the blog on the mistaken premise that photographs would generate more interest. It did not help.

After a few short posts by my cousin, a few pretty pictures my father took, and two of my long-winded treaties, the whole experiment fizzled.

I am going to move the highlights on to The Beige Report website -- a photoessay of our trip to Busan at Christmas and an overview of my reading habits circa January 2005 -- and postdate them to match the day they posted. Then, A Relative Collective will be no more.

The frequent failure/short life span of blogs is something that's not often discussed. I was looking around for my found Haiku bit the other day and discovered that easily half of the blogger.com sites are dead. Many of them consist of one post that says: "Hi! This is my first post to my new blog. I'm going to try this whole bloging thing out and see what happens. I don't know how often I'll post." Then, nothing. Curiously many of the one-post blogs were started in the late spring to mid summer of 2004. Guess that's when bloging rose to public consciousness, when news coverage was at it's height. That's when I started bloging.

Well, A Relative Collective, rest in peace. I will remember you with frustration, embarrassment, and depression.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Blogger.com Ban Lifted

The ban on blogger.com in Korea has been lifted. I'm not going into the details here. They are sorted, others have done a much better job covering the issue, and I have happier things to write about. Suffice to say, South Korea has a long way to go before it is truly a free and open democratic society.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Found Haiku 2

From Poignant Blurs by Sarah Beth:

Willy Nilly: Thoughts
that these imply; Turn over,
keep on asking why.

Found Haiku 1

I am starting a new section called Found Haiku. It's like found sounds or found art only it's with words. Okay, so it's just a derivative of found poetry and the idea's not mine. My good friend Peter introduced me to the concept. He got most of his material from television commercials. His Haikus were beautiful, surreal commentaries on pop culture, consumerism, and modern life. Plus, they were funny.

I am going to take my found haikus from the Internet, mostly from blogs to begin with. There will be a few simple rules:

1. I must credit the original author.
2. I can remove words from the original copy.
3. I can not add words or change their order.

The first found haiku is from a site called Far Far Away by a woman who calls herself Flowerful. Just from those two facts you can tell she'd be a rich source for found haikus. Let's saver her name for a moment: Flowerful. Ah! That's truly beautiful. I recommend visiting her site. It's all pink and she talks about crying a lot. I confess to having a little crush on her. Her picture's so cute. Anyway, I digress. Here is the haiku I found at her site:

The golden weekends
are almost gone. Monday - I
don't want to meet you.

Click on the period at the end of the haiku to see where the lines originally came from.

Transitions: A Novel in Three Parts

Below is a portion of Transitions: A Novel in Three Parts. This first part, And, We Were Moving The Whole Time, is a semi-fictional account of a 39-hour coast to coast road trip my sister and I took from Washington, DC to Los Angles after I graduated high school. The trip began with great optimism, but slowly deteriorated into self-doubt, lethargy, and depression. I was left to confront my inability to achieve my dreams.

Transitions: A Novel in Three Parts

Part I: And, We Were Moving The Whole Time

I have seen my father cry four times. The last time was when my sister and I left the last house our family shared.

He hugged us both tight, first my sister and then me. We must have exchanged some pleasantries, but I cannot remember what. I am sure I said I loved him. Then, Justine and I stepped into the car and closed the door, first her and then me, with a sold, definitive thump. My father stood watching, silently.

My mother was not there. She was already in Florida, outside Miami, working for Habitat for Humanity. My father had returned to Virginia to tie up loose ends: sell our house, close his business, complete the punch-out list on the Shuler’s place. Then he would return to Florida and start helping Habitat rebuild after hurricane Andrew. "One thousand homes in three years," that was their mantra.

Justine and I were heading for California, Colton, what is today part of the Inland Empire. It was the culmination of a year and a half of planning for me, my next move after high school. For Justine it was a quick choice. She had to pick a direction as our family scattered and she chose mine.

As I turned to back out of the driveway, I caught a glimpse of the front yard. The grass was brownish green and the limbs were bare. But, in early spring the plants would wake. The grass would untangle from its matted brown winter mess and resolve into upright green blades. The rows of azalea bushes, crisscrossed brown stalks in the winter, would grow fat. Wet buds would form on the tips and along their branches. Weeks after that the buds would sprout into rows of pink, yellow, and red flowers. The sky would be blue and supple baby maple leaves would dangle from the branches on the huge oak tree in the middle of the yard.

Our house looked upright and handsome. The reddish brown and gray slate walkway ran from the driveway to a matching set of wide slate steps and our front stoop. The tall glass window at the center of our trademark Kerson door — my father installed one on every house we owned — was covered with cloth folding blinders, which matched those covering our living room window. Ivy crawled over the red bricks and framed the glass block window that lit my father’s office.

When I looked back one last time before making the turn onto Spring Valley Drive and California, my father was standing at the head of the driveway, his hands hanging at his sides. His face was scrunched up in a recognizable expression. He was fighting tears. But, they ran down his face. Narrow shinning streaks. I threw a short, chopped wave. He waved back and I turned onto the street. Justine and I were silent.

We began by taking Spring Valley Drive to Cherokee Lane. Cherokee Lane to Edsall Road, then entering onto 395 South. This part of the trip was familiar. We traveled the route daily. We drove by the Crown station where I bought gas and we rose up the entrance ramp. The red and yellow roof of the neighborhood Denny’s hovered on the horizon between Ames and Motel 6.

My elementary school friend, Andy and I had sat in that Denny’s on one of his return visits to Northern Virginia. Likely, that Denny’s was where I first told Andy about my plans to move to California after high school.

I cannot exactly remember where or when the actual conversation occurred. The plan was a long time in coming. My father planted the seed. For as long as I can remember, he told me I should take a year off before college. He said I should get out, look around, try something different. I would be better prepared, more focused when I returned to school. Travel was an equivalent education to school. You learned different things, but you learned. That was the important thing. You learned.

He told me stories of his trip through the United States and Canada in ’69 after leaving the Navy. He hitchhiked from Florida to Maine to San Francisco. His favorite story was about traveling up the cost of Newfoundland. He was walking down the road along a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. I imagined a black winding road split by two bright yellow lines and buffeted by steep, wet green mountains and gray craggily cliffs, which lead down to the dull gray, flat, sand beach.

My father describes coming to a turn where the beach, the mountains, and the overcast sky were visible for miles. Off in the distance, maybe a mile ahead, sat a jumble of cars and people. The tide was out and the sea was not visible even from the high cliff. Only a long wet stretch of sand running out to where the ocean should be.

As my father walked down the road toward the beach below, he wondered what the people were doing. Men stood next to their open car doors, leaning on the frames talking to friends. Some women sat cross-legged on the trunks of the cars, looking out to the absent sea. Others sat in the passenger seats, apparently napping.
My father watched this aimless group for thirty to forty minutes as he walked.

Finally, when he was about three hundred yards away from the closest point the asphalt came to the shoreline, where a warn dirt track ran down to the beach, he heard someone yell, "It’s coming." He looked out to see a nearly imperceptible light gray foam shadow moving across the horizon. The crowd of loiterers jumped in their cars with a clatter of yelps and thumping car doors and they began racing toward the safty of the bluff. The tide ran in across the hard packed, level beach with alarming speed. But, distance was hard to judge and it was never clear how close the water came to the motorist.

Two or three minutes after the mad dash had begun, the column of cars roared up the dirt road and skidded onto the asphalt. They headed north, away from my father, without stopping. A few cars honked their horns and someone yelled out his lowered window. Soon after the last car had made it onto the road, a four-foot wave crashed against the bluff and rolled back out to sea. The gray foam crashing and buzzing.

Hearing stories like this growing up, I knew taking a year off after high school was not a problem. My mother never commented when listening to my father’s stories. But, when I raised the issue with her, she agreed with the idea in the abstract.

Going into the summer of my senior year of high school there was no more appealing idea than taking a year off. I was fed up with school. Tired of bitter teachers with no sense of perspective...

Click to download the complete version of And, We Were Moving The Whole Time. (The story is saved as a pdf file. You can download an Adobe Acrobat Reader here.)

This piece is the first part of an anticipated novel chronicling three important personal turning points. The second section will recount my move to South Korea after college graduation. The third and final piece will detail the disassembly of my life in Korea and my return to the United States.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005



Tomato and Toast

We had tomato and toast for breakfast: white bread covered with cream cheese and topped with thick slices of tomato. The tomatoes were fresh from the market yesterday and the cream cheese was straight from the refrigerator, chilled. Look at the deep red tomatoes, blood red. We followed it with a cup of strong black coffee. Good way to start the day.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Through the Window

Blurred images tear
the horizon: burning bush
crumbling wall of light

On the Gravel

Sticky summer night
on finely textured gravel
she waited for more

No Relief

No relief for Cash,
small dog humpin a pillow,
he hasn't been fixed.


Yum: brown-green and round
asparagus, salt, butter
on fork and in mouth.

My Father's Bathroom Tiles

My father's bathroom:
square tiles of corral green like
Key lime pie slices.

Backyard at Night

Blue-black night sky haze;
in the backyard I wonder.
Look, this is always!

Easy's Coat

Easy's coat: granite
gray and white water-washed stones
drying in the sun.

Big Bend, Texas

Big Bend, Texas sky:
silent satellites gleam arcs
cross the Milky Way.

Society and Freedom after a Big Sushi Dinner

They have these wonderful sushi bars in Korea. You sit at a lunch counter with everything build in: a little cubby hole for dishes and teacups, jars of wasabi and soy sauce, chopsticks and soup spoons, and a hot water fountain for making green tea. Dozens of plates of different sushi pass by on a conveyor belt in front of you. The plates are each color-coded: red is 1,500 won, blue is 2,000 won, green 2,500, and gold 3,000. You pull off the plates as they pass and the chef behind the counter makes another and places it on the conveyor. The dishes keep coming, revolving in front of you. Salmon rolls toped with onion and creamed horseradish, sweet smoked eel wrapped in seaweed paper, lobster salad on a rice ball covered with caviar. At the end of the meal, the waitress adds up the plates according to color and you pay for what you've eaten. The miso soup and green tea is free. Jiyeoun and I went tonight for dinner: yum.