Thursday, July 30, 2009

Seoul Writings II

1.
Gyeongbok Palace
20/7/09

Six-Fold Screen of the Sun, Moon and Five Peaks.
Eight-Fold Screen of Peonies and Rocks.
Ten-Fold Screen of Shelves Full of Books.
Faint sounds of Royal Court Music dispell past affairs of guilt & torment like visionary footsteps echoing in the cavernous hollow Palace building new consciousness of the old.

2.
Seonyu Island
21/7/09

Frogs random croaking tickles the strolling couples amourous desires.
Gentle waterfalls soothe the weight of time wrinkles on faces of three older woman friends.
Men gamble & fish freely in the wind playing to catch treasures of leisure.
We descend steps disappearing into the Han under the arced bridge sweeping all cares to the warm night sky on heavenly swings.

3.
Seowon Temple in Maputo
22/7/09

Climb to the top
not to look down
or out over
but look on
the golden hand.

Prayer gesture
Imploring tomorrow
for yesterday's gratitude.

I saw the newsroom today.
What a lucky man.

4.
Odusan Unification Observatory
23/7/09

At the bottom of the escalater waits a quiet figure. He will share his home & guide us through ancestral rites with hopes & desires of future respect & dignity.

We peer across the golden face of Buddha & the serene Imjin river to distant lands - "Are you happy?" she asks. Please sing.

5.
Missed at Gangseo
24/7/09

Auntie while looking at photos laughed so hard her belly button fell off.

Neice grabbed it & threw it high behind her. A fly flew after it but her uncle got the belly button first - unfotunately he swallowed the fly.

Not even all the tricks, dances, drumming and spectacle of the evening airirang party could release the fly.
They even ate sweet cake but nothing worked.

Finally Uncle offered niece the top cherry thinking it to be most desireable. Biting into the sour cherry neice squeezed her face so tight her belly button shot out & the fly flew out of uncle to catch neice's belly button but missed.
Instead it bounced into Auntie.

Niece grabbed Auntie's navel from uncle's pocket & pushed it onto herself. Everyone was happy even though Neice & Auntie switched belly buttons.

6.
Foot of Daemosan / Ping pong
25/7/09

The other you face is a cautious player who accepts your inexperience for the art of the beginner is finding the rhythm of action in the space between. Allow the ball or person to simply come & meet.

We wander late along Yangjae stream the air fresh from seeping water of the rainy season floods. Catching the last metro, not all the way home we spill out into the Saturday night crush & walk till tiredness.

Paths never end. We must choose our distance & open to the space between knowing inevitably the journey chooses us.

7.
Taehakno
26/7/09

Carved into the rock of a public fountain at Taehakno are some masks of Samdaenori like some forgotten shrine - the water has run dry. Only the old & destitute stop to rest. The statue of commerated Korean patriot Kim Sang Ok stands guard in the park.

Cotton candy, shiny trinkets, hat sellers, blaring music, park buskers & posters for the latest international glittzy musicals are the distractions of today.
We escape the sudden rain to sip on green tea feeling the past abandoned.

Water flows. "... tears like the vaporous steam forming on a cooling glass well up in my eyes." (Yi Sang from Child)


8.
27/7/09

An older couple, young of spirit, runs the neighbourhood - shop. The tiny space, barely large enough for three, bursts with chaotic order.

They ply their trade bridging the past with the modern midst fading certificates, ancient carving tools, an old computer and copier, wooden shelves cluttered with papers, a phone with oversize buttons, a wooden filing cabinent & a case filled with various brands of cigarettes which seem to be the only money making part of their business.

Our first visit was to obtain a family seal. A cordial welcome accompanied with smiles, politeness & curiosity made for a pleasant meeting of traditional restraint.

The second visit required scanning documents onto a memory stick. I watched as the man skillfully worked an elderly woman's seal teaching her how to twist & pull the top with a joke & a laugh.

The women meanwhile worked with careful efficiency and concentration on the computer without the slightest betrayal that this technology may be new for her. She presented us with juice as we waited. A few more personal exchanges lifted the formality to familiarity.

One muggy evening returning home at days end our paths crossed on the street. We bowed to each other with genuine smiles of recognition.

The third visit was a late night visit to make copies. An outbreak of animated discussion transformed into an english lesson. The man was alone. Supper was cooking on the hotplate. He shoved it underneath the shelf apologizing for the smell explaining times were tough and ordering food everyday was now impossible. He shifted handfuls of paper off the copier and engaged in playful banter.

Before I knew it he was searching through the filing cabinet drawers pulling out his english folder. The top of his notebook read "Welcome to our English class." He was attending the free language class offered by the community.

He peppered my wife with questions pointing to phrases, asking for help and finally turned to me requesting to hear a native speakers inflection. He laboriously repeated over & over: "Everything demands some work." He stumbled on the 's' & slurred the words but I marvelled at his persistence.

We suggested he use this phrase while encouraging his son who was studying hard to switch to a higher status university for his final fourth year.

The woman arrived. Surveying the scene she reached into a hidden fridge bidding us quite insistently to accept a bag full of seasonal melons. Eventually we paid a nominal fee for the copies. As we left both of them suggested we come whenever we like even if we have no work.

Embrdded In this city of high octane energy & ambition is a timeless oasis.

" I'll go back to heaven again.
At the end of my outing to this beautiful world
I'll go back and say: that was beautiful. . . . "
- Ch'õn Sang-Pyõng

(translated from the Koean by Brother Anthony of Taizė)