Sunday, May 26: Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week is Pathways. I’ve seen many beautiful pathways in my travels around the world.
Saturday, April 6: The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Color. Splashed on the walls of cities, in batches of flowers in gardens, in the doodles of students, and on the palettes of artists, color is everywhere: it may represent our mood, and it can affect our mood. In photography, you can use a spectrum of colors to bring a place to life, or focus on a single shade to make a bold statement. Conversely, you can shoot in black-and-white or remove color in editing mode for a different effect.
In a new post created specifically for this challenge, share a picture in which color takes center stage.
Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.
Finally, in honor of South Korea, which is having a few problems with its bellicose northern neighbor right now, here are some colorful lanterns from a lantern festival in Seoul.
Friday, March 15: This week I watched a 2002 German film called Enlightenment Guaranteed. The film is an amusing yet thought-provoking story about two German brothers who go to Tokyo in search of enlightenment amidst a series of mishaps and tribulations. I loved this film not only because I could relate to the brothers’ experiences as foreigners in Japan (I recognized my own experiences in Korea!), but also because it gave me food for thought on my spiritual journey.
Uwe is a kitchen designer with 4 screaming children and a wife, Petra, who he continually berates. At work, he tells a couple of his clients that arguments usually start in the kitchen because most kitchens are poorly designed and too small. He tells them a kitchen has to make you happy, that you should be able to think clearly while chopping onions or cabbage. The act of chopping, he says, can be aerobics for the soul.
In an argument in Uwe’s house that begins in the kitchen, Petra is busy cleaning up a puddle of cold milk that her child knocked to the floor because it wasn’t warmed. Uwe comes in and says, sarcastically, that he’s not surprised; after all, the child likes his milk warm: “Look, Mama made a mess. People learn from experience. That’s what makes us human. In theory, at least.”
Later that evening, when Uwe returns home from work, he finds his wife and children are gone. There’s a note on the kitchen floor from Petra: “I’m learning from experience that you will never change.”
Uwe calls his brother, Gustav, who studies Zen Buddhism and works as a Feng Shui consultant. He spends time in meditation each day and applies Zen principles in his daily life. Gustav is packing for a trip to Tokyo; he plans to stay several weeks at the Sojij Monastery in Monzen. Uwe begs Gustav to take him along to Tokyo: “Don’t leave me alone! I’ll kill myself,” he cries and pleads with his brother in a drunken stupor. “I won’t bother you! I’ll carry your bags!” Earnest Gustav agrees reluctantly to take Uwe along, even though he wants to do the journey alone.
So begins the “enlightenment” of Gustav and Uwe. Throughout their travels, Gustav reads wise Buddhist truths from a book about Zen. When the brothers arrive in Tokyo, every Japanese person on the streets is talking on a mobile phone. The city is an assault on the senses.
In the hotel, Gustav uses a compass to determine the optimal direction to lie in his bed, and Uwe measures his bed like he measures his kitchen cabinets. As they leave their hotel to go out for dinner and drinks in Tokyo, Uwe says, “Can we leave our passports in the room?” Gustav says, “Of course. Nobody steals in Japan.”
After dinner, they head to a bar. Gustav, who is worried about getting lost in Tokyo, warns Uwe that they should use neon flashing signs to remember their location: KAWASAKI and EPSOM. At the bar, they order 3 drinks and the bill shockingly comes to $600. When they head back out to the street, they can’t find their landmark signs. By this time, Uwe’s money is “finito” due to the outrageous bar bill, and Gustav has only 5,000 yen ($52). They can’t remember the name of their hotel, but Gustav has a business card he picked up from the hotel desk. He gives it to a woman taxi driver and they start driving for what seems like a long distance, further than they walked. When the driver finally stops, they say, “This is the hotel??” The driver says “Otel??? Otel??” like she’s not sure she understands. They get out of the taxi, and they see a hospital across the street: “Maybe she thought we were saying “hospital.” By this time, they are down to 1,000 yen, and they decide to go to an ATM for more money. The machine is flashing Japanese instructions and then eats Uwe’s card. Gustav inserts his card, and the same thing happens. Now they have no money, no means of getting any, and no idea where they are.
Now, with nothing left, Gustav reads from his Zen book: “Become homeless. Feel good in your own skin. In misery is bliss.” With the small change they have left, they go to a casino, hoping to win the jackpot. Of course they lose all their money in the slot machines.
As it turns into the wee morning hours, Gustav reads: “Have patience every day of your life.” Exhausted, they stop in a small park lined with cardboard boxes, and they each crawl into one to sleep for the night. As they prepare to sleep, Gustav says, “I don’t think it’s all that bad.” Uwe says, “In the last hour I only thought of Petra and the kids 17 times. What do you mean it’s not all that bad here? Is this more of your Zen bull****?”
In the morning, they wake up and Gustav swears, “No more cardboard boxes!” They go to a department store where they find tents for sale, and Uwe steals a bright yellow tent by putting it under his jacket. As they are crossing a huge and crowded crosswalk, they get separated.
Uwe has been filming their experience on his video camera and as he wanders alone through the streets of Tokyo, he says to the camera, “I feel like I’m on some strange planet.” While Gustav wanders alone, trying to reassure himself, he reads in his Zen book: “The melon knows not the cold wind of morning. Alone on the ice, a cheerful cormorant.” Gustav steals a meal from a sushi conveyor belt. Uwe goes to a palm reader who reads his palm in Japanese; he films her reading.
Gustav ends up in a metro station singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive!” in German. While singing, a German girl approaches him to put money in his hat, and he latches on to her: “You speak German!!??” As she takes him by train to her home, where she lives with a Japanese man, Gustav looks out the train window and sees the yellow tent beside the track. The brothers are reunited and go to Anica’s house, where she gives them a place to sleep and the ability to work in a German Oktoberfest house to earn a little money. As she speaks some Japanese, she translates Uwe’s palm reading from the video: “Clear lines, strong feelings. Recently you’ve had problems in your love life. I see a separation from your wife.” Uwe says, “Separation or divorce??” She says, “I see a hope line that points to the light.” Uwe ponders the meaning of this.
Finally, they are on their way to the Buddhist monastery in Monzen. On the train, Uwe reads: “Meditation is the way to enlightenment.” Gustav says, “Yes, you just sit there and let your thoughts come and go.”
Uwe continues reading: “We must see through the illusion that there is a separate self. We practice to remove this divide. Not until the moment we and the object become one do we truly see our lives. You don’t reach enlightenment. It’s the absence of something. You’re after something your entire life, some goal. Enlightenment is giving it up.”
At the monastery, they get into the Zen Buddhist monks’ routine. They wake every morning at 4. They meditate and chant for hours. They clean floors. They clean windows. They sweep the ground outdoors. They sit and contemplate nature. Over and over, the routine is repeated day in and day out. Finally, at the end of their stay, each of them goes to talk to a wise monk about their problems.
Uwe tells the monk about his hatred for his wife for leaving him. The monk tells him: “See all other people as if they were you. Just like you. If you want to hate, then really hate. Don’t eat. Don’t sleep. Hate, hate, hate. The hate will go away by itself. You will see that hate won’t get you anywhere.”
Gustav, who is continually messing up at the monastery, falling down while scrubbing floors or falling asleep during meditation, asks the monk about his fears of getting lost and of making mistakes. The monk tells him: “Mistakes are a fact of life. That can’t be changed. Everyone makes them. Your true nature is what counts. Not the rest. If you’re afraid of spilling a cup of tea, your fear keeps you from noticing how warm the cup feels in your hand and how good it smells. Because you’re so busy trying not to spill it.”
I love the messages in this movie. The movie is all about stripping down to the bare essentials, about learning what’s important. I couldn’t help but think of myself when I went to Greece this summer and my suitcase was lost for 2 days. At least I had money, my camera, and a place to sleep, but I was disappointed and irritated and worried. I don’t know how I would have done had the suitcase never appeared, but I didn’t like the inconvenience one bit. However, I didn’t sit in my hotel sulking; neither did I sit on the phone all day berating Egypt Air. I went out to explore the streets of Athens and to see the Acropolis. I enjoyed some heavenly meals accompanied by wine. Neither did Gustav and Uwe like their situation, and many times one or the other of them threatened to give up, go the German embassy, and go home. They continually reminded each other: “Never give up!” And they didn’t.
In the year I lived in Korea, I lived in a small one room apartment, much like a dorm room with a small kitchen, after having lived in nice brick 2- or 3-story Colonials in Virgina for most of my life. I had to pare down and lower my expectations considerably. When I taught at the elementary school in Seongju, I had a 1 1/2 hour commute each way,which included walking for 20 minutes, riding two unheated buses and sitting in an unheated, filthy bus station for 20 minutes. The school was not heated in winter or cooled in summer. Many days in winter, I was cold all day, huddled in my winter coat next to a heat lamp I bought for my classroom. As hard as it was, I kept telling myself, “This won’t last forever. I just need to make it though.” And I did. However, it was difficult and I didn’t accept it easily. Often I would have to remind myself to just let it go. Sometimes I was successful; often I wasn’t.
I have other challenges in Oman, different from in Korea, but challenges nonetheless. My dear friend Mario has told me in the past that he sees me as generally content. My first year here, I WAS content, more so than this year, mainly because of the deterioration in my job. But slowly, I have learned to be content when I’m outside of work, despite the heat, the lack of greenery, the ultra-traditional culture. I’m still working on the art of letting go. Practice. Patience.
I have this strange recurring vision of myself, sometimes in dreams, sometimes in waking visions. I see myself walking down a path, and when I look down at my feet, I see my feet moving steadily forward under a monk’s robes. Strange. Maybe I’m being called to spend some time in a monastery. I know there is still a lot for me to learn. I believe, if I keep practicing, I will find the way to let go. Slowly. Slowly.
Friday, December 7: Our new travel theme challenge for this week from Ailsa of Where’s my backpack? is Circles. She writes: Circles have a similar effect to leading lines in photos – the eye can’t help but follow the line of the circle, usually tracing around it several times, which draws attention to both the circle and whatever it encloses.
Here are some circles from my travels:
Before I went to Korea, I ate my meals on one plate. Maybe two. But in Korea, they serve their meals on multiple plates and everyone eats off of them communally. Every one of their meals is like this. They do a LOT of dish washing in that country!
I’ve posted pictures of my favorite place in Korea, Suncheon Bay before, but the ones I’ve posted were taken in December, when all the grasses were brown. On this trip, taken October 2, the circles of grasses were green.
Tuesday, July 10: Now that FrizzText, who used to challenge us with the A-Z archive photo challenge, has gone through the entire alphabet, he is now challenging us to come up with a story or brief reflection about something from each letter of the alphabet. Last week, for the letter “A,” I linked up to his challenge a story about Andong, South Korea, from my catbird in korea blog: andong and the hotel california. To join in, see FrizzText’s Story Challenge: Letter B.
This week, I have just a few things to say about bicycles.
I like the old-fashioned kind, the kind with shiny metal fenders, a kickstand and a basket attached to the front handlebars. I have a memory of riding my bicycle with no hands and my eyes closed, trying to be a daredevil, and falling down, of course. A rock lodged in my knee and, scraped and bloodied, I sat in the bathroom crying as my mother pried the rock out. I still have that scar.
As a child, I loved the feel of the wind in my hair, the recklessness of speeding downhill on my bicycle.
I rode an old-fashioned bicycle in Kyoto, Japan with a Korean girl baker. These are sturdy old-fashioned bicycles with baskets and no adjustable gears, the kind I rode when I was a girl. Everyone seems to ride these kinds of bikes in Kyoto. Compact and well-dressed Japanese people pedal around on them, looking unhurried and day-dreamy, creating a simple Japanese-style Norman Rockwell-like ambiance that makes me feel a nostalgic fondness for the days when life was full of straightforward and uncomplicated pleasures.
Whenever I see a bicycle parked anywhere, I hesitate, struck by its utility and its romance. In China, there were bicycles aplenty, and I loved them all, as much as you can love something that can’t love you back.
And in Oman, I see the lone bicycle, parked alongside a struggling business, the sole means of transport for some poor Pakistani or Indian.
Tuesday, March 6: How can I sum up Japan in one picture? I have chosen four that I hope will convey something about Japan, its colorful and quirky culture, its celebration of detail, and its love of beauty and order. It’s appropriate that the A-Z Photo Challenge for this week is the letter “J” and that I came up with “Japan” as my theme. Because just one year ago, on 11 March 2011, Japan was hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that triggered a deadly 23-foot tsunami in the country’s north. I had just visited Kyoto, well south of the tsunami, in February 2011, just one month prior. At the time of the disaster, I had left Korea for good and was traveling in India.
I had fallen in love with the country and its people. My heart went out to Japan, a culture that values order and cleanliness, as they had to recover from a disaster of such proportions. A sad time for a lovely culture.
If you would like to read about my short trip to Japan, please visit my blog at catbird in kyoto.
Thursday, February 23: I am now officially hooked on the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. After looking through lots of entries in this ongoing challenge, I’ve happened upon some amazing blogs. One of my favorites is called Life in the Bogs by a talented photographer in Ohio named Robin. I am so mesmerized that now I read her blog every morning along with my coffee! Today, I found through her blog a photo challenge by someone named Karma: Karma’s When I Feel Like it Blog: February Photo Hunt. Since I have hundreds of photos from my travels, and I also went on a hike Thursday on Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) in Oman, I decided to try to find, or take, some pictures that match her prompts. Karma’s challenge words and my photos follow.
Because Oman is a desert country, with little water, the few trees you see often look like they’re dying, or struggling to keep themselves together. I found this one Thursday on Jebel Akdar (Green Mountain), with its bark flaking off.
For bow, I’m going with the definition of “a bend or curve.” This is a pond at the Ho Chi Minh complex in Hanoi. I love the bow of this large balcony over the pond.
For this one, I looked for the closest thing I could find to a mug shot, and this is the best I could do!
I love how everything in Japan is so neat and orderly. I could have chosen so many pictures for row from Japan, I had a hard time deciding which one to use. I love the colors and the Japanese characters on these wooden fortunes. These are all over temples in Japan, but since I don’t read Japanese, I’m only assuming they’re either fortunes or wishes. I really would love to know what they actually are!
Here’s the definition of bun I found: any of a wide variety of variously shaped bread rolls, usually leavened and slightly sweetened or plain, sometimes containing spices, dried currants, etc. Ok, admittedly, dumplings are not exactly buns, but this is the closest thing I could find. They are a type of bread, right? Anyway, I make mine with Bisquick, which one also uses to make buns. A close cousin?
6) heart shapes (for the month of valentines)
Beautiful heart-shaped leaves in Daegu, South Korea. I love the color and texture of these. I feel like they can’t decide whether they’re dead or alive, or whether it’s spring or fall.
Bonus word: leap (to celebrate leap year)
This is at one of the many wadis in Oman, specifically Wadi Bani Khalid. It’s always hot in Oman, so these pools are really refreshing. This Omani boy leaps in for a swim at one of the many pools. Ahhh, sweet relief.
Happy LEAP YEAR!!