Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heart and Seoul 2 -- Korean Folk Village

First the hand off. We are passed from one librarian to the next -- from SIS to KIS -- from Chris to Kris Feller -- at Sunday brunch. Right after that we drive to the Korean Folk Village to be entertained by daredevils on horseback, a tightrope walker (no net for this guy) and dancers with zero respect for gravity.

The folk village is made up of relocated cottages and reproductions completed with meticulous attention to detail. The day is cold but clear and as I stand watching the horsemanship, the sun warms my back. We are definitely not in Cleveland, but the weather is not that different than a sunny February day by the lake.

And the look on Elka's face says it all as she and her mother Kris huddle in the sun. The look of sheer delight.

Heart and Seoul -- weekends are for touring

Gyenongbok Palace: Pictures don't do justice to this massive building. The changing of the guard is a serious procession complete with whipping flag routine, air slicing curved knives on sticks and whopping drums.

As I stand watching this ancient, powerful routine I feel cheated that my education was so Euro-centric. Why weren't these images ever in my social studies text? Why don't I know more about the Korean culture? These are some pretty wicked looking swords on sticks and how about that drum that takes both arms of a very strong man to play?

This place whispers of palace intrigue that surely would have been equal to the knights of the round table. And I know there are plenty of Korean Americans (I don't have numbers, but PLENTY). Why wasn't this in my social studies text? I grab brochures as we walk along and study the guidebook at night feeling like there is so much catching up I need to do. I remember cutting out wooden shoes and making flags of all the countries in Europe, but Korea was just part of a giant pink blob called Asia on my classroom scroll down Denoyer Geppert map. Never we were taught any distinguishing characteristics of the different cultures of Asia.

And how about this guy. He is the stuff of fantastic fantasies -- a made up creature who looks to be part cat and part reptile. He could have been lurking in the dark corners of the room protecting me from the dragons in the closet if I'd only known that he existed (fictionally speaking).

Thanks to Chris for carting us around town, trains and buses and coffee shops. Oh, and one knitting/fabric store. We only had time to visit 2 of the seven stories of this place that make Joanne Fabrics look like the Easy Bake Oven of yarn, fabric and sewing supplies. Thanks to all of the teachers at SIS for making us feel welcome.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Seoul International School

Banners in the hall, coffee and brownies in the library, and attentive students -- what more could any poet ask? The grounds of the school are dotted with sculptures and the athletic field glows green on the damp, grey day we arrive. It's cold in Korea and workers have fires burning at their building worksites as we walk to school. And every corner has a building site-- Korea is growing up and out and on every corner.

Korean students have a reputation for being very serious about their studies -- and they are. We begin every presentation with an advertisement for the importance of poetry to scientists and engineers -- helping them to develop precise language skills.

This is normal for any HS presentation, but it has to be punched up for Korean kids. It is here that when Michael tells an audience of tenth graders that he has a book in which he took SAT level vocabulary words and wrote poems to define them that he gets exuberant applause. Nowhere else in the world has this EVER happened. We laugh.

But the students get serious again as they begin to write about what is important to them -- words that they want to think about, conflicts and joys. The personal reflections of poetry.

And then the smiles return as the writers see their own thoughts turn into poems. Thank you SIS and Chris Fazenbacher for making this a wonderful visit.

Welcome to Korea

When burdened with too much baggage, dehydrated for fresh air and fluids, invariably sweating because it seemed easier to wear that coat than pack it, hazy-headed, you push through the milky one way doors out of the uniformed forest of customs officials and get shunted between metal railings for inspection by a waiting crowd of strangers yearning forward to make connections, there is hardly any feeling to match finally seeing those one or two faces of familiar. Kris Feller and Chris Fazenbacher come to greet us in Seoul and we are once again amazed that in this big, confusing world human beings are able to connect in a foreign port.

As welcome as this greeting is, the joy of it is only a miniature of the elation I feel when I receive an email the next morning with the subject line: Your bag has been found. I had fallen asleep on the airport limo bus on the way to the teacher apartments and left my travel bag with passport (visa for China included), camera, blackberry, I Touch, $500, credit cards and even my driver’s license behind. The next morning it was returned. Intact. Right down to the loose change. This is only partly good karma (somewhere I must have done something right) but mostly attributable to the Korean culture. This is how I greet Korea – warm smiles and friendly honesty.

Okay. And a little whiff of garlic, racing traffic, soaring glass monuments to modernity, ancient temples, and millions of Koreans all going somewhere in a hurry. The first day we are there we just go PICK UP THE BAG and then we had lunch at a combination mall, amusement park (Lotto World) and skating rink where the speed and figure skating kids were practicing for Olympic Dreams.