Monday, October 20

things that make me happy

The Circus: the fantastic and the freaks

Traditionally, the circus was a showcase of human oddities, in figure, form, farce, and talent. Although today we have fly systems and fog machines, safety nets and trampolines, microphones and air conditioning, the basic components and the stereotypical characters are still in place.

Cirque du Soliel's Alegria opens with a monologue by a boy I will refer to as "the circus Darling." In his pre-pubescent timbre, and his clear (though tinged with French) Korean, he endeared us to him and to his cast of fantastical characters. The aerialist, the singer, and the acrobats were punctuated with the clowns who muttered in French and crumpled each others' paper airplanes. When the fat one in overalls four sizes too big got particularly angry at the bald one with his bangs standing straight up off his forehead, the bald one pulled out a quick Korean platitude, "saranghae," I love you. There were fire twirlers in loincloths and a strong man who could hold his whole body parallel to the floor on one arm, a girl who could hula four hoops upside down, and two girls who could bend themselves just about inside-out. There were the trapeze artists, and acrobats on trampolines, and a man with lats the size of watermelons who hung from what might have been the world's largest rubber band. There was a clown in a snowstorm, and then there was the most terrifying moment of the show:

Two very large men supported either end of a flexible plank with their shoulders. Atop the plank, a marginally smaller man did backflips, successively higher and more impressive, until, to the horror of the audience, they lifted the Darling atop the plank, too. The boy wrapped his legs around the man's middle. Not a breath ruffled the silence in the tent. The man held the Darling's bottom with one hand and gathered balance with the other. He prepped, a couple of bends of the knees. The plank flexed. The man leapt into the air with the boy hugged to him. He flipped leg over leg over head. One foot back on the white plank--the next--and he not even wobbled but swayed--the holders of the plank stepped over, pushing more of the white stability into the air underneath them. Finally steady, the boy stepped down. The audience had to let out its breath before it could clap. I wondered, then, if the boy was the man's son. And, if not, how they ever got his mother to consent.

With the final bow, our fantastical creatures removed their wigs, revealing naught but ordinary hair in ordinary browns and blacks, caught up with ordinary pins. I almost wished they hadn't rent the illusion and left me wondering at the tedium of mastering such skills as simultaneous hula hooping, or the daunting memorization of a monologue in a new language for every foreign city. But, I understand that a performer needs a moment of humanity, of recognition within his own personhood for his accomplishment, or oddity.

I also wondered if they traveled with their own cerologist, as none of them had any body hair. Of course, the men passing torches under their bottoms and across their bellies probably singe it off themselves...

Saturday, October 18

Brothers and Birthdays

For those of you who do not have a brother as amazing as mine, envy me.

Sunday, October 12

English Teacher by day, Mystery Woman by night

"Uh-pa! Uh-pa!" a little girl cried to her father as I passed her in the park. "Jordan Teacher!" she told him, but he was too far to hear, so she called again, excited to see a teacher in such a strange setting. I smiled to myself as I walked up the hill toward my apartment.

I remember seeing my English teacher in line for popcorn at the AMC 24 once. Of course, I was in high school and did my best to make sure he wouldn't see me. But I think it is funny how, as kids, there is such a dissociation between teachers as teachers and teachers as people. It's almost as if they don't exist once they leave the building. The whole tree-falling-in-a-forest thing.

A couple of years ago, I met a young middle school math teacher. He was an attractive, dark-haired snow boarder with a large diamond earring in one ear. I felt bad for the girls in his classes, really, because the odds of them actually focusing on pre-algebra seemed pretty slim to me. I also felt privileged, in a middle-school sort of way, to know what he did on the weekends, to watch him drink and laugh with his adult friends. Never mind the fact that we spanned the ages of nineteen to twenty-four, hardly more than kids ourselves.

Now a teacher myself, I relish the perception of mystery I wear like a shimmery cloak. To my littlest students, I must be very old, and to my oldest, of an enviable age. Each of them seems fascinated by the prospect of my 'impending' marriage. I suppose it would hardly even be conceivable to their compartmentalized experiences that I go home and eat cereal, that I see movies with my friends, and that I wear strappy gold heels and hang off the shoulders of various men throughout the week. Scandalous, eh? The double life of the English teacher.

Halloween and Turkish Toilets

Yesterday was a momentous occasion for me. In the nether regions of a Seoul subway station, annoyed and embarassed at letting woman after woman take my place in line to use the toilet, I finally marched down to the end of the stalls and locked myself in with a squatter. It was a ferocious face-off, and I was determined to defeat my long-time foe. I should think congratulations are in order. Now nothing stands between me and world domination!


On another note, shopping in Seoul is enough to send me scuttling under my funny little bed. Apparently Americans of my stature are not supposed to try anything on. Or perhaps it's more to do with fashion sense than size. I'm not sure, as the few phrases I've learned are insufficient to ask. If I had to describe the fashion here, I might peg it somewhere between late eighties/early nineties American, eg. Blossom, and modern hipster sensibilities, intellectual rapper/punk. Now that I've cleared that all to mud...

At school, we have begun preparations for Halloween. I will be a vampire stationed at the face painting booth. Fortunately, I have several festivals-worth of experience at kids' face painting. Mostly, I remember requests for butterflies and snakes. There is also a decorating contest with a monetary incentive for the teachers. My theme is ghosts. I really want to put a big Mario on one wall staring at one ghost that's covering its eyes. Behind him, I'd put a flock of other marshmallow ghosts. We'll see if I can bribe my older students to do some artwork...

Tuesday, October 7

Invasion of the White Dog, and Chanting Hangeul

The national dog of South Korea must be the tiny white variety. They toddle across the street on short leashes, parade around in their little striped Polo sweaters, ride imperiously in the arms of old women and young men alike, and sit in manicured and meticulously groomed rows on the vet's bench (the vet in blue scrubs who I have a sort of window-shopping crush on every morning as I pass his office).

Today I learned the chant for the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, with instruction from a supervisor and the enthusiastic guidance of my students. It sounds something like this. Ahem.

Ca-na-da-l/ra-ma-bpa-sa (breath) a-ja-tcha-ka-ta-pa-ha. Those are the consonants coupled with the first vowel. The vowels sound like this. Ahem.


Claire keeps asking me, can't you hear the difference between "guh," and "gkuh," and "gkkuh." I think she makes the first one softer and an iota closer to "g" than "k," the second a smidge more like a "k" than a "g," and the third she just spits through closed teeth. Really, they sound the same to me every time, just with a different attitude behind them. The giyeuk, the kieuk, and the ssang-giyeuk. The mild, the annoyed, and the pissed off.

But, I feel I am in good company, learning alongside my students, and I feel that, even though they laugh at me when I practice my new words on them, they are really rather encouraging.

By the way, I find it amusing that my notebook for Korean practice is labeled "English Notebook."

Saturday, October 4

The Yellow Sea

Jordan's Firsts:

-riding in a boat (the two minute ride from one island to the next)
Here is Steve on the ferry.

-collecting sea shells on the beach

-sleeping in a hut on the beach

This was our hut. This is Stacey. Say "hello," Stacey.

-Eating anything out of a shell.

This is Tyler before he's even seen the eyeball he will later eat out of our soup. This is Juri who taught me how to make a little cup out of my ramen lid.

These are the rocks on which I sat watching the tide go out in the early morning.

I simply cannot fathom where all that water goes. The newcomers to the beach around ten a.m. had to walk a good half mile from the shoreline that I walked when I awoke.

To all my friends who love the sea, I can see why, but each time the waves swept in at me, I was vaguely afraid of its powerful arms and the tenuous position I held on the land. While its lapping or rushing or crashing are soothing to the ears, and the sea breeze crisp enough to smooth the worry from my forehead and deepen the shallow breath within my lungs, the concept of such unfathomable depth and uncrossable breadth adds fearsome to beautiful. Perhaps it is simply that I do not like to be reminded that I am insignificant and fragile. I am often reminded of that as of late.

This was the extent of our sunset as cloud cover thwarted the brilliance we had hoped for.

This is the house that Jack built.

And this is my newly adopted philosophy.