12: Scribbles

Dear Reader,

Below are some unedited scribbles I’ve scribbled over the past five months. As such, they reflect a spectrum of moods. Please enjoy them.

Tomorrow, I leave Korea for good. Time to depart, again.

Thank you for reading any of my posts. Whether I accomplished my overarching motif of ‘emphasizing the upsides’ throughout my journey overseas is hard to say. What I do know is that there is never a wasted experience, especially if given the chance to reflect on it. So, I’m glad I could share some of mine.

Dear Korea,

I’ll miss, in no order:
  • Kimbap
  • The subway
  • Fireworks
  • Songpyun
  • Delicious plump grapes
  • Some of the students
  • Sharing culture
  • Sauna culture
  • Bowing/respect
  • Bamboo forests
  • Lemon honey tea

December 18, 2016


Blood trickles down to my brain, engorged and live. Synapses re-glued; neurons re-sewn. Everything gathered, all one.
Death is so close, at all times. Life is a miracle. Every day I am living is some soft dream.
But words fail—all thumbs, all just arrows, you know.
August 17, 2016


As long as I am here, and able, and willing,
Bigger beauties await.

August 25, 2016


Geok Son and I climbed to the top. In drizzling puddles and fog-tinted lenses, we hustled our short hike to the top of Bulgugksa Temple in Gyeongju, Korea. Not the most charming of places. Korea in general is...not the most charming of countries. But, its people feel humble and earthy to me. Like it has been around the block and doesn’t give a ton of shits if it’s not the best…?

Who knows really, I’m no expert. But it feels...meh. Maybe I’m just homesick.

October 6, 2016


Nature does not spare eyes for perfection. She heeds it all--pragmatism so often her design of choice. Mushy, severed, oozy--this is what propagates, if it works. And sometimes we call it--Her--beautiful.

But she is always full, always juicy with life if it works.

October 3, 2016


We were as thick as thieves.
We were childs of the night.
We were conjoined little secrets.

And upon us came age.

October 14, 2016


Korea--I won’t ever fully understand you and your culture because few really can become new cultures. So, I cannot say much about you beyond surface interactions and brief living.

Thank you for having me. It was a mixed bag. Thank you for the mixings.

October 14, 2016


“Delicious!” shouted my Truth Class students. “Sam-Teacher-Meat is juicy and yummy!”

“Ah, okay, Class...but if you don’t finish your work, I will eat you today!”

“Uh!” (*Worried faces turn to each other.*)

“Hubert, do you want to be soup or noodles? Ann? Yeni? Jay? Aiden? Jenny?”
“Sam-Gogi (‘gogi’ is korean for ‘meat’)! We want to eat Sam-Teacher!”

October 18, 2016


I fell a million times asleep, only to wake up as nature herself.

I fell a million lives ago, felt them all upon waking.

I stretched my limbs and could reel in my own opaque history: eons, eons ago.

October 18, 2016


To stimulate
the nerve--

To touch
the tangled heart--

To captivate
the brain like the monkey tamer--

To flex the soul,
To propagate as miracle.

October 22, 2016



“Hello, Sam Teachuh.”

“Hello, Butterfly!”

I preferred embracing the children as Monkey, Rabbit, and Tiger than as Patrick, Alice, and June, respectively. At the spritely age of six, weren’t these namings more accurate than their English counterparts?

“Bye, Butterfly.”

And as much as I loved playing with them--tickling them, singing with them--I had to manage and assembly-line them. They were part of the “English-learning Brigade.”

Sorry, kids. Play another day.

October 26, 2016


One time with my older students I said, “Next week, I will ask you how you plan to kill me. Think of creative ways!” We were joking during the class about how we were already dead, and how I might kill some of them again.

It all started with an absent student. “Haena, where is Ellie?”

“I killed her.”

“Again?! Haena, last week I told you to stop killing Ellie!”

November 19, 2016



I’ll keep you okay.

In insanity, I’ll keep you just fine.
In horror and ill health, I’ll keep you all alright.

In broken window sills,
In revolting dark alleys that smell like rubber,
In unforgiving heat and wetness--
I’ll keep you okay.

November 22, 2016


In morning, I feel it--my finite fingers, my edges.

I live in this body, spinning on this planet, soon to die and un-become. What a wild thing it is to be.

November 24, 2016


In the midst of dullness, of a lonely winter, I find myself fighting back for harmony. Among trouble I brew lemon tea. I avow earnest steadiness, albeit imperfect and the fully human kind of steadiness.

December 6, 2016


It’s not all so sad, really.  We go on forever, in some way or another. It’s true. No one can fully disappear. No one can just vanish eternally, even if they do.
It’s not all so sad, see. A giant wicker broom sweeps up our dust into the next room. Another afternoon. Another string of living.
December 8, 2016

Ages turn into creative but analytical episodes. Opposites combine: known and the ineffable; heart and numbers.

Ages of my life flow backwards like art periods: romantics, cubists, surrealists count in curved, straight seasons. A lifespan. A single moment a trillion times created.

December 10, 2016


Golden golden locks, strewn down her cheeks like criss-cross pie crust. Hers is a cherry red set of cheeks. Hers is a heavenly face, an angel among humans. A delicate harmony.

December 12, 2016


I’m thankful for the stars at night.

December 17, 2016

A goodbye letter to my friend, addressed to her Spanish-named plants:

“Dear Gustavo, Rosa, Ernesto, y Berenice—

Please be good to Charlotte. (I’m looking at you, Berenice!) And no speaking Korean. (I’m looking at you Ernesto!) Otherwise, gangsta people will come to the apartment…and CUT YOU!


Rosa: blink twice if you’re still alive.”

December 18, 2016

11: Postcards

As winter approached, I sent some postcards to some people I love. I figured they would enjoy a bit of Korean poetry. (Or, at least I would enjoy finding and sharing some.) While I do get goosebumps from a good poem now and then, I rarely seek that particular thrill.

Below are some wintry lines I liked.

December 4, 2016

PS I'll be leaving Korea in two weeks. While my stay hasn't proved terribly pleasant, of course, I'm trying to savor my last days here. Despite a steady desire to get outta here, I believe it's important to depart sweetly. So? Lingering on my couch with Murakami and a steamy mug of rooibos. Crunching salty seaweed before pushing my body at the gym. Quiet Saturday mornings. Cozy Wednesday evenings. Dog caf├ęs. More Murakami.

Soon, the last five months will become a hazy, crappy dream I once lived. I'll forget how much much of it sucked. And how sick I felt at times. And adrift.

But, I am terribly proud of myself. Among innumerable downs, I've stayed decently afloat. Okay. Hopeful. Patient. Resilient.

Curry? I'll provide it myself.












10: Possible

“How often do you shave your head?” I grinned to the monk.

He replied (through the translator), “Every ten days. On the sixth, sixteenth, and twenty-sixth of each month according to the lunar calendar.” The translator added that on these days, the monks were semi-permitted to kill creatures (in this case, lice).

The monk and I exchanged smiles and nods, and fellow guests continued the tea ceremony (ceremoniously) with more questions. The sacred person sitting before us fourteen worldly visitors was a monk in training (and looked about thirty-five graceful years old). His skin was smooth, his eyes large, and his fingers looked unmistakably powerful and gentle: as if they had never lifted a thing, but could lift a tractor from the mud with ease.

To tell more of the twenty-four hour experience would spoil its existentially-unrepeatable, words-are-just-symbols-and-not-enlightening-(in-and-of-themselves) nature. But hell, I’d like to better remember some of it...


Holding a five thousand won bill to the bus driver, I muttered, “Uhh...gkwen-chan-eye-oh?” (“Is this okay?”) He grunted, spoke some Korean, and the line of twenty people behind me grunted/laughed in unison. My bus card was empty, and I had no change, so I awkwardly continued on the bus without paying. (Commence head-down, shamefully-finding-an-empty-seat-all-the-way-in-the-back scene.) A pitying Korean teenage boy met me in my seat and handed me some change. (I later apologized to the driver and paid my ticket.)

This happened after a forty-five minute, semi-humid, triumphant hike up the mountain. I sat in the bus, delighted I had made it to the final leg before just making it in time for the Beomeosa Temple Stay. The bus would deliver me a few more kilometers to the top, at the temple entrance. 

Then, I (hilariously) watched my joy dissipate into a tangly, deflated red balloon: the bus turned right around, down the mountain, heading into town with a speedy, Korean haste. 

Peace, temple!


Temple-staying is when (Buddhism-)intrigued people briefly glimpse monastic life. At this particular temple (in Korea, there are quite a lot!), we stuck to a strict schedule of activities for twenty-four hours. 

Some of the various highlights included:
  • Learning proper bowing and praying etiquette (not unreasonably complicated)
  • Meditating (go figure)
  • Hiking to another temple (I swear I spotted some enlightened cats flying across bamboo chutes up there)
  • Eating a traditional meal in silence
  • Praying 108 times (to make prayer beads)
  • Touring the temple property
  • Chanting (go figure)


After some internal laughter and a shared taxi ride back up the mountain, I made it! The temple grounds were pocketed with tourists (mostly Korean). The afternoon sun dipped above some hazy mist, about to peak for the day.

And what a calming, enchanting place. Beomeosa Temple was established around 678, and some of the oldest remaining buildings are from the 1600s. Perhaps because of excellent maintenance, periodic renovations, or simply its adjacency to nature and hella-old mountains, Beomeosa did not feel especially distant in time. Compared to the bustling city of five million I currently call home, it felt infinitely more familiar and welcoming. It was, in fact, so much more sensible to me than the hodgepodge of apartment complexes, wires, streets, and concrete of urban life.

As I explored the various areas, I reached the North End (I believe?) and saw a sign in English: “Temple Stay.” I climbed the steps to a pleasantly simple rectangle of wood and stone and doorways. To be as inconspicuous as possible (as I was late), I tiptoed inside, quickly changed into grey linens, and quietly plopped onto a brown matt in the circle with fellow stayers. The monk in the middle continued talking. (From his tone, he must have felt he was sitting on a delightful cloud rather than a mere cushion.)


Shoving a brown thread into the tiny hole of a brown wooden bead one-hundred eight times was hard on the knees. For about eight minutes (or perhaps eternity?), we made 108 prayer beads. Signifying the 108 feelings in Buddhism (as well as the lapse of years since the Chicago Cubs had won the World Series until 2016!), these handicrafts were to be constructed by simultaneously bowing, fastening a bead onto the thread, standing up, (rinsing,) and repeating. So, at the SMACK! of the monk’s hollowed pipe, we sunk our knees into the matt, touched our temples to the floor, raised our hands to our ears, and fidgeted with the materials. 


Stand up! Fold. Insert.



The middle-aged man next to me, who had quit his job in Hong Kong to travel, sniggered. It was clear the task was ridiculous, what with the pace of it and how some of the holes were too small. I giggled in my hea--SMACK!


I heard a bead or two scatter away from its unlucky threader. (Haha!)

Bow. Forehead. Hands. Bead. (Quickly-pre-position-next-beads-for-faster-fastening.) UP!


To clean up, an assistant poured hot water into a bowl, and we were instructed to swirl the water around, pour into the larger bowl, and use a yellow sliver of fermented radish as a sponge. Next, when two bowls are empty, you drink the remaining food scraps and pour the contents into the biggest bowl for composting. (That might be incorrect, though, as I did not follow well and earned some smiles from the translator as I tried to gulp what was a lot of water, some rice, spinach, and the radish. (Mmm...WET RADISH.))

Chanting in another temple hall--where offerings of towering, gorgeous grapefruits, dragon fruits, bananas, apples, and watermelons adorned the carved shelves--followed dinner. Of course, many of us stayers didn’t understand what we were communicating with the universe, each other, and ourselves--but it didn’t matter a whole lot. I felt the sacred air about us. (Language is an arbitrary song, no?) (And everything is sacred in context?)

Before an early bedtime, our group joined others at a courtyard to listen to the temple drummers. On the second story of an open-deck house, a double-malleted monk went to town on a polar bear sized gong. He painted the surrounding area with melodic, metallic vibrations. (What better way to usher us all into silence?)

Everyone drifted away to their lodging. Us stayers strolled to ours, unraveled our mattresses and blankets, and prepared for an early bedtime. (Sleep came quickly. We did pray a helluva lot...) 

Pleasant sounding snores floated above our little dreaming bodies.


“How did you become a monk?” inquired a German man, who was about my age, similar in beard and glasses. He sat upright next to his girlfriend, all of us half-circling the monk for more questions.

He explained he had grown up like many Koreans, attending school to qualify for a good job. While an excellent student and a college graduate, he decided the rat race was not for him. He had no ambition to (as I shall put it here) ‘become someone.’ The life so many around him would settle into--a career, a marriage, and a striving to accumulate wealth and some measure of success--was unappealing.

So, he became a monk. 

And he went to monk school. 

And he sat here, with us.

Immediately, his simple story sunk atop my shoulder blades and at the arch of my neck--a wrinkling, electric chill. For, at my current episode in life, just like he once did, I have no drive to necessarily 'become someone.' (A monk life for me, maybe?!)


As I speeded back to my apartment on the subway, I realized the mental quietude would eventually evaporate in the mere day-to-day of the city and its society.

At the temple in the mountains, I had gained glimpses of the potential beauty of a different life: death of ego; immersion into Now; alertness to the wholly unique, will-never-repeat, subjective nature of conscious existence. 

For in the monks’ presence, I felt a hint of their particular magnetism, achieved from countless hours of meditation. They do not belong to the states of being conjured from busy brainwaves of the clever clever primate. Perhaps they have indeed departed from the collective dream. Perhaps they live in possibility.
November 6, 2016