The inept storyteller

Sat Jan 3, 2004

One always dies too soon - or too late. And yet one’s whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are - your life and nothing else.

-Sartre No Exit

I am the inept storyteller who tries to recount my life without full cognizance of it’s greater design, with no idea of how the plot will unfold. I cannot isolate the significant plays and nuances and subtleties that will orchestrate events to come. All I can do is narrate whatever jumbled and random event I choose and imbue it with some credibility, give it some reason to exist in written form. In this respect I feel this kind of journal writing is unsatisfying and somewhat tedious in it’s futile application, where life just becomes a visceral mosaic of impressions, fleeting moods and chronological events dutifully rendered into prose, yet lacking any impact outside of it’s small structured world of words. Sigh. Well, whatever, I guess I can just ditch this thing but I am so damn meticulous I just have to cover everything. I’ll be brief. It’s better than being a whiny existentialist I suppose. And I have a point, somewhere in these ramblings, so stay with me, ok?

So, Christmas day. Hung out with Sulu and her boyfriend and her sister, was going to see Return of the King but it was sold out. Went up Namsan tower instead. I was amazed to see so many Korean couples going up for a romantic view of the city lights. So many couples, in fact, that the queue for the cable car snaked all the way into the parking lot and it took three hours just to get up to the tower and back down along with the couple-hordes. Making it extremely unromantic in my opinion.

The other day Won Jang Nim took us out for our year-end dinner and we ate giant crabs. The crabs tasted ok but not worth the 320000 won she shelled out for them. That’s about $100 a crab folks. I took a video of them trying to claw their way out of the aquarium. I’m taking videos of everything these days, like that guy from American Beauty who films plastic bags twirling in the wind. 2003 was undoubtedly the most documented year of my life. Afterwards we, er… looked at dresses in the fashion boutique. That’s what you get when all your co-workers are women. Then we drank beer in the pub and I’ve been on vacation ever since (and will be until the 5th Jan).

For new year’s eve I went up to Imjingak on the North-South border with Jennifer and “Cindy Crawford” (her English name, personally I think she looks more like Tina Turner). There was a small festival and “Peace Concert” up there. We ate lots of Butchinge (I don’t know, it’s like a shrimp, octopus and seaweed pancake) and sat around drinking ginseng tea. We snuck up to the barbed wire fence of the DMZ and took pictures until some soldiers chased us off. It was kind of lame, although we did have one solid ride on THE VIKING. At one point everybody started chanting in unison, so I figured they must be counting down, and sure enough I saw 2004 in confused and befuddled, not unlike the day I was born. They rang the “Peace Bell” thirty-three times, as some sort of Buddhist rite as far as I could gather. It was really quite ominous. Oh, and everybody instantly turned one year older, as is the custom in Korea (and Japan and probably in some other Asian countries). So, by Korean reckoning I’m now 29 years old (adding the ‘year’ I spent in the womb), which doesn’t sit well with me, so I’ll just stick to the Western system and stay 27.

I thought the concert would be low-key too, but I was pleasantly surprised by the awesome line-up - Jewelry, DJ da Mix, Kang Chul and Drunken Tiger. Very cool if you’re familiar with Korean bands, it was definitely the highlight.

Now if you’re still with me, let me tell you about the strange experience I had today, and the new friend I made. I was feeling sick this morning, I have a cold and feel all displaced, but I didn’t want to stay home burning DVDs all day again. So I decided to brave it and hike up Bhukansan to get some shots. These days I’m also into making 360 panoramic photographs, it’s quite a painstaking process, setting up the tripod and lining it up and everything. Anyways, I’m hoofing it up the mountain at a good pace trying to beat the sunset and I come across this old man struggling up the path with his walking stick and we strike up a conversation, as he speaks really good English. It turns out he also lives in Vancouver, but he was diagnosed with cancer and when the Canadian doctors told him they couldn’t help him he sold all his stuff and moved to Korea for some alternative medical treatment. Well, this I found out later, but at the time I could tell he would appreciate some company and all the other Korean grandpas were saying “see you later old man” and leaving him behind because he was rather slow with his walking stick and all. Well, I helped him up that damn mountain, the very same mountain I was stuck on a few months before God sent in those Newfies to guide me back down. He even told me to take off and leave him behind, but I told him I was in no hurry. Here I was complaining about a cold slowing me down, but this old man was taking on the mountain fresh from chemo-therapy, it put me to shame.

Anyways, on the way back down the mountain we were talking, he’s a really funny old man and he’s telling me about his war stories in Vietnam and that sort of thing and about his kids and we made a startling revelation - his son owns the very same business that sent me to Korea in the first place, he even knows my recruiter, Michael personally! So we ate dinner together at some Mandu place and I looked up at him and said If it wasn’t for your son, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now! And all this time I’m trying to figure why God arranged this bizarre meeting. Could it be that this connection will help me get a job in Vancouver? So then I went to his apartment and met his wife and his other son, who is a Canadian lawyer working in Seoul. Aaaah, then things became clearer. I’m weeks away from finishing my contract - I’m the first foreigner to ever do so at this school and there is a good chance a contractual dispute will arise, I might just need some legal aid, could that be it? The lawyer son gave me his card and said “give me a call, maybe we can swing a lunch sometime”. And I’m thinking, sweet! Even though I’ll probably never call him, I’m making good connections and participating in cool yuppie jargon to boot. I think though, that the reason I met this old man on the mountain, a man who is preparing to die and is living life to the fullest was to show me to grab life by the balls and go for it while I can, live your best life, carpe diem, and also to reveal the bittersweet nature of friendship and the ephemeral beauty of this life. You are your life and nothing else.

I don’t know that’s my take on it. But who am I - nothing but an inept storyteller.

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