Monday, 30 April 2012

Cherry Blossoms

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Mmm . . .

"You are a poet as I am a woman. Poets and women are always free with their hearts, are they not?" -- Anne Boleyn in Tudors.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

This is how it works . . .

Below is a part of the unusual, truthful lyrics of Regina Spektor's song "On the Radio".

This is how it works
You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

Chuncheon Makguksu

Chuncheon City is famous for makguksu: buckwheat noodles served cold, with dried seaweed, radish, sesame seeds, and sweet red pepper paste.

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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Annual Health Check

A week ago I went for my annual health check-up, paid for, thankfully, by my employer. Today I went back to the clinic to retrieve my results and talk to the doctor about any irregularities. I'm thankful to announce that there is nothing much out of the ordinary.

The eye test revealed that my left eye is weaker than the right and the doctor advised I get my glasses prescription updated as soon as possible. Because my right eye is doing most of the work, one eye will become much weaker than the other, he says.

Apparently I still have antibodies for Hepatitis A and C, but not for Hepatitis B. Their suggestion is a Hepatitis vaccination topup. Hepatitis is actually a common virus in Korea. I'm not fond of vaccinations, but neither do I want Hepatitis B.

The EKG showed that my heart beat is somewhat slow. If it is too slow one needs to get a pacemaker. In my case it is probably just an indication of fitness. Athletes generally have a slower heartbeat. In any case, my pulse is within the 60-70 beats per minute range, which is quite healthy. At the time of the test my pulse rate was 67.

The blood test did indicate a slightly high ESR (Erythrocite Sedimentation Rate). A high ESR is an indicator of inflammation. The doctor did not seem concerned about it at all. The liver function test also showed slightly elevated Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), which is another inflammation indicator, particularly an inflammation of the muscles. LDH has four enzyme classes. The blood test I did was a general one and not specifically aimed at testing the LDH enzyme classes. The doctor said that I should wait about three to six months, then test my LDH again. Only if it is elevated for a relatively long time is it a cause for concern. Since LDH is related to muscle inflammation, it could easily just be a case of general workout related inflammation associated with my martial art training. The fact that my CRP (C-reactive protein) level, which is another inflammation indicator, is completely within the normal range, supports the doctor's lack of concern. In any case, I'll check up on my LDH levels again towards the latter part of this year.

Generally everything is working fine. I don't have any parasites, I'm HIV negative, and I do not have any other veneral (sexually transmitted) diseases. My tumor markers are all within the normal range and the ultrasound screenings of my thyroid, abdomen, kidneys, liver, and pancreas do not reveal any growths. My electrolyte levels are all normal, so are my protein levels and the lipid test shows that my cholesterol levels are good. In fact, my LDL-Cholesterol is 72! Under 100 is considered optimal. My HDL-Cholesterol is 59. Above 60 is optimal. And my Triglyceride level is well within the normal range.

So, in short, apart from needing a new pair of glasses, I'm blessedly healthy.

The doctor strongly recommended that I also have an endoscopy and colonoscopy, which are tests that are urged in Korea because of the unusually high percentage of Koreans that get stomach or intestinal cance. If something is such a pandemic within one demographic it is clearly a cultural phenomenon, probably with a dietary cause. To me it is quite obvious what the culprit is: too many salty, spicy and pickled foods; i.e. kimchi and Korea's many other unnecessarily spicy dishes. Such constant irritation of the digestive track is just begging for cancerous cysts to develop. Seeing as I do not live on a Korean diet and do not regularly eat overly spicy foods, and also seeing as I have a high fibre diet that is very low in animal produce, I don't think I am a candidate for these types of cancers. Maybe I will have a endoscopy next year—if my employer pays for it again—but otherwise I don't see a need for having such an intrusive test done. I also opted out of the X-ray scan and CT-scan that were part of the package. I don't see a reason to bombard my body with DNA-damaging radiation unnecessarily.

Ironically, I woke this morning with a pang of pain in my back. This afternoon I went to see my chiropractor. He complained that my muscles are unusually tense. He thinks it might be a relapse in my posture; I blame unconscious stress. In either case, I could benefit from better posture and stress-relief activities. I'll also go see him more often again. I quit going to the chiropractor last year around November. I saw a great improvement in my posture and the once chronic back pain I used to have disappeared—these were the very reasons I went to see him. Obviously because of these improvements I didn't see a need for the continuous expense. I guess, however, I should have continued the treatment for sometime longer, as he had suggested. It is just that other things lay claim to that part of my budget instead. Luckily I had paid in advance and so I still have a couple of pre-paid treatments remaining, which I will use up now, before I decide if I'll make my visits to the chiropractor a regular thing again or not.

Tomorrow I return to the dentist.

Goodness!, these past two weeks have been particularly focussed on health concerns. I wish you all good health, and if you haven't had a check-up in a while, I urge you to have one done. It is worth the effort.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

South African Coat of Arms

A character in Merlin, with a tattoo on his left arm.
I was watching the final few episodes of season 4 of the BBC series Merlin and a tattoo on the arm of one of the characters caught my eye.

A digitally enhanced
close-up of the tattoo.
Yes, it as none other than the South African Coat of Arms! Such anachronisms--one of the hall marks of Postmodernism--get's me all giddy. The average Joe watching the series would not recognize the tattoo for what it is. Who would have thought that the Coat of Arms could make for such a cool looking tattoo?

I've personally always liked the new Coat of Arms. From a purely graphic design point of view, it is a well thought through design. (I originally studied graphic design, and although I don't work in that field full time any more, I still have an appreciation for good design.)

The dawning sun, a symbol for both Africa and for a new beginning, crowns the Secretary Bird. The bird spreads its wings open in triumph and hope. The Secretary Bird is a bird of prey indigenous to Sub-Sahara Africa, known for it's unique way of killing its prey by kicking it to death. In the emblem the spear and knopkierie, two traditional weapons that also symbolize authority, act as the Secretary Bird's legs. The weapons are reclined into a guarded cross, indicating that they are used for defence, rather than offence.

The body of the Secretary Bird is both a diamond and a protea. The former representing South Africa's mineral wealth, and the latter referring to South Africa's flora. The protea is South Africa's national flower. Over 90% of all protea are found only in South Africa, in the Cape Floristic Region.

In the centre of the emblem, together with the spear and knopkierie is the traditional shield, a symbol of protection. Displayed on the shield are two human figures holding hands, symbolizing friendship, reconciliation, and unity and community. The figures are of Khoi-San (Bushmen) people, the first inhabitants of Southern Africa. I find this particularly touching that these truly indigenous South African people should be honoured in this way. The motto at the bottom of the shield is written in the Khoi language, "!ke e: /xarra //ke". It means "unity in diversity", referring to South Africa's multicultural community.

The ears of wheat symbolizes South Africa's agriculture--the bedrock of the country's health. They also signifies sustainable growth.

Finally the elephant tusks refers to the country's wildlife. Elephants are also symbols of strength and wisdom, while ivory represents longevity.

Sadly, this rich Coat of Arms also contains many ironies. The idea of a better life for all, a new beginning after the oppression of the previous regime, is quickly fading as the new regime, the current governing party, is becoming increasingly more corrupt. The reclined weapons that should indicate peace now seem to indicate the governments impotence to defend against the terrible violent crimes that plague the land. Especially suffering under these violent crimes are the agricultural industry. The systematic killing of farmers are also destroying the country's self-sufficiency. Instead of symbolising agricultural health, the ears of wheat are transformed into wreaths for graves. The illegal trade in ivory causes the butchery of elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns by poachers. The tusks that should symbolize longevity, now becomes reason for their premature death. The shield and the figures holding hands regularly seem to be and ideal only and the Khoi-San people are still some of the most marginalized, underprivileged people in South Africa.

Then, of course, there are the conspiracy theorists that believe that the Coat of Arms is a design chosen by the New World Order, seeped with occult symbolism.

Image Source
I'm not sure that I am truly convinced about this; however, there is that Eye-of-Providence on the pyramid. The fact that it is so conspicuously red, clearly indicates something sinister, doesn't it?

The Eye-of-Providence, also known as the All-Seeing-Eye, is also found on the American Dollar Bill.

Jacopo Pontormo's "Supper at Emmaus"
Circa 1525
In Byzantine and traditional Christian art, the Eye-of-Providence functions as a symbol for the omniscience of God, and the triangle is an icon used for the Trinity.

However, the symbol was not an authentic Christian icon. The Roman Church took it (and many other symbols) from paganism. The earliest version of the "eye" is probably the Eye of Horos, which symbolizes the Egyptian Sun-God, Ra.

That the Freemasons and other secret fraternity's often make use of the Eye-of-Providence as one of their icons is well established. If the little red triangle on top of the pyramid in the South African Coat of Arms is indeed a reference to the Eye-of-Providence as is also found in the American One Dollar Bill, then there may be room for suspicion that the powers-that-be in South Africa are not necessarily the ones doing the posturing in the media. As with most governments that are infiltrated by the New World Order, for example the United States of America, the politicians are merely puppets that dance to the strings of other, higher powers.

But, back to the South African Coat of Arms, it is fun to see that it makes for an interesting tattoo! And I enjoyed seeing it in the magical world of the Merlin-series.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Apathy is Worse than Hate & I Wrote This for You

There is a Korean expression, "apathy is worse than hate." I think the following description by I Wrote This for You describes this truth elegantly, vividly:

You should know that there is something worse than hate and that is unlove. Because hate is anger over something lost, hate is passion, hate is misguided, it's caring for the wrong things but it is still caring. But unlove, unlove is to unkiss, to unremember, to unhold, to undream, to undo everything that ever was and leave smooth stone behind in its wake. No fire. No fury. Just, nothing. And that is worse than hate.
Apathy means not to care for, to have no regard for, to have a complete disinterest for, a complete lack of emotion or care for something or someone. "No fire. No fury. Just, nothing."

Btw, the author of I Wrote This for You, a Kindle book that has been on the iTunes poetry best-sellers list, is a South African "poet", writing under the pseudonym "pleasefindthis", who works in the media- / marketing industry. He has an inspiring way with words that touches the soul in much the same way as Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.

Deceased Girlfriends

I read somewhere that Adam Young of Owl City wrote the song "Vanilla Twilight" while mourning for his girlfriend that was killed in a car crash. Making art to work through ones grief is an effective way to mourn and try and make sense of the tragedy. After my girlfriend was killed in a car crash I also turned to art. The first thing I made was a blue leafed tulip that I constructed out of wire. Tulips were her favourite flower, and she once mentioned the idea of blue tulips to me. I placed the flower on her coffin. Afterwards I wrote numerous poems about her and about her death, all in Afrikaans, because she had such a great love of the language. In fact, I think it is her love of Afrikaans that inspired me to write more in Afrikaans and now Afrikaans has become the language I prefer to write poetry in. She passed away at such a young age, only 21, and I had only known her for about four years, yet the influences she had on my life are long lasting. My appreciation of music is forever altered, my appreciation of the poetic quality of Afrikaans forever set, my sense of aesthetics forever enhanced. It is sad when we lose someone, but the ways in which they touched us need not be lost. We can remember them by taking the things we received from them, and living them out in beautiful, personal ways.

Friday, 20 April 2012

A Synoptic Rendition of Ten Days of My Life

What a turbulent week or so. I'm using "turbulent" in the random sense of the word, rather than the chaotic sense. The former's meaning being more connotatively neutral than the latter.

There are too many things to list, but let's start with last week Wednesday. It was a public holiday in Korea on account of elections. I used this opportunity to travel to Suwon, a city about two hours out of Seoul, to meet with a professor from Kyunghee University to talk about PhD possibilities. The meeting went well, but if I do plan to study there it will only happen next year, as they only take in PhD candidates in the beginning if the year. There are a number of reasons I am considering Kyunghee University; one pertinent one is that classes are only on one, mostly two days a week, which will hopefully allow me to both work and study.

Over the weekend I met with some friends that came to visit Korea from the United States and Canada. We stayed out late, causing me to miss the last subway home. I had to borrow money to take a taxi home.

The next morning (Sunday) I hosted a Hapkido self-defense workshop, presented by a friend of mine. That evening I finished composing two exam papers and spent most of this week working on papers and giving exams. (This week was midterm exam week at the university where I work.)

On Tuesday night I went to see a Korean theatre performance. I know the director, so she gave me two complimentary tickets. Something that wasn't planned was that my companion came back with me to my place.

Wednesday night I had a dinner appointment with a friend. We had Indian food. I felt a little guilty for not eating much. I was told not to, in preparation for what was to follow the next day.

Thursday I went for my annual health check-up, paid for by my employer. It is quite a comprehensive check-up; although I decided to opt-out of the X-rays and CT-scans. I had X-rays taken last year during the annual check-up and do not believe that I need another one just yet. Exposure to too much radiation is a health risk in itself. I also opted out of the endoscopy. It just felt too invasive a procedure to have. In Korea many people die of stomach cancer, so I guess a regular endoscopy is prudent, but I do not have the same consistent spicy diet and eat lots of fibre, so I don't think going for a regular endoscopy is crucial for me. Something that was not on the list, but which is something that I guess I need to get is a prostate check. I didn't get it taken this year either, but I think that starting next year it ought to be on my health check-up list. I'm just at that age now. I'll be getting the results from all the tests back next week Wednesday. I also went to the dentist. I need to go back for a follow-up visit next week to fix a filling from years back that fell out recently.

Thursday night at the martial art class I had a really good session. I trained hard during the Taekwon-Do class and stayed for the grappling class where I had a second good workout too. I think the short nap I took in the afternoon was the cause for my extra zest. This week is midterm exam week, so I had extra time and could afford a quick afternoon nap. I think I may need to try and work it into my schedule, especially on those days that I train in the evenings. I've long ago learned the value of power naps, but often feel guilty for taking them -- part of my father's work ethic; he didn't approve of sleeping during the day.

Speaking of my Dad, he got a mobile phone. Getting a mobile phone may not sound that spectacular, until you realize that he is an invalid that cannot speak. It makes for a one sided conversation, but at least I can now call him, and give him a synoptic account of my life here in Korea. I've phoned him now for the second time--I phoned him last week as well. It is not a very long conversation, more of a monologue. Nonetheless, I get the sense that it is valuable to him. Our relationship had never been a very strong one and after his crippling incident his inability to speak did not allow hope for much of a future growth in our relationship either; not to mention the fact that I live in another country. His new mobile phone may actually help in a small way. In a few minutes I can share with him some of the things I do. Like tonight I told most of the stuff I wrote in this blog post. Up until now he had always heard about my life second-hand, from one of my brothers.

During the week I also met with another friend from Cairo. All my closest Korean friends seem to live abroad: Egypt, America, the Philippines.

Well, it is nearly time for bed.

Goodnight World!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Anti-Bullying Blogging Carnival

Over the past weekend a number of martial art bloggers had an anti-bullying blogging carnival -- they all contributed posts on the theme of (anti-)bullying. I was one of the contributors to this carnival and am happy to say that my submission received an award for "Most Eye-Opening Discussion". I considered "The Potential Value of Martial Arts for Ostracised Korean Children." To read more about anti-bullying blogging carnival and find links to all the different contributions click on the button below.

Martial Arts Perth

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Heavenly Food

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I make myself a simple dish of pasta with tomatoes and red peppers baked in coconut oil, mixed with basil pesto, and tossed with fresh herbs and freshly ground coriander seeds, and I feel utterly blessed. It's not a particularly complex dish, nor expensive. The ingredients are few, fresh and well chosen. Yet, I feel like I've had a foretaste of the Good Life

God--Thank You!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

"Viper's Drag"

One of my favourite ol' time jazz piano pieces, originally by Fats Waller, performed here by Jim Hession.

Disrespect in the Classroom

"Professor, I need to speak to you face to face." So said a student this morning as he walked up to me. In Korea all university lecturers are called professor, I think it is based on the American model. For this student, who is often slack with honorifics, it was clearly serious. "I don't appreciate what you did to me yesterday," he continues.

What I did to him yesterday was, I threw water at him. What I did to him was mild in comparison to what I wanted to do to him. I wanted to slap him--very hard--against the head.

This is what unfolded yesterday: Next week is the midterm exam week, so I was discussing with the students when the exam will be. At the university I work at, there isn't a separate exam schedule set up. Instead we just use a time slot during which our regular class hours are. Now for this class the students really ought to get a two hour exam. Unfortunately this semester this class doesn't have a double period, only three single periods over three consecutive days. I recommended that we maybe have the exam in two parts, over two days: a one hour exam on the first day and another hour on the second day. At this suggestion this particular student shouted out: "That's f*cked up!" And to make sure that I and everybody else heard it, he shouted again: "That's f*cked up!" It was then that I through a dollop of water from my water bottle at him.

So when he came to me this morning saying that he did not appreciate what I did to him yesterday I felt little sympathy. "Maybe," replied I, "I should not have thrown water at you. Instead, I think, I should have chased you out of my class for using such foul language and swearing at me."

"I apologise for swearing," he then responded.

"In which case, I apologise for throwing water at you."

He knows I like him because he is an individual, with his own opinions, and doesn't try to fit into the typical Korean mould. That I appreciate individuals in such a group-oriented society probably made him think that he can express himself in any which way, but had I let such behaviour slide, him and the other students may have gotten the impression that any behaviour is acceptable. Shouting "That's f*cked up!" in a university class is definitely not behaviour I will stand for. I don't mind students disagreeing with me, as long as it is well motivated and presented in a civil manner. This particular class is all about motivating ones answers with proof and analytical thought. Clearly he has yet to learn that.

My decision to throw water at him was not an impulsive one, although it may look like it. My first impulse was to give him one against the head. I also, could have chased him out of my class. Or I could have verbally reprimanded him in front of everybody. All of these things would have seriously shamed him in front of his peers and in Korean society shame is cause for terrible humiliation. In the Orient people commit suicide because of shame. So I did something that clearly showed my displeasure and probably did shame him somewhat, but not nearly as much had I did any of the other things that came to mind. Had this not been Korea I would definitely have shouted at him to get out of my class.

During our discussion this morning he suggested that I should have called him to stay after class and discussed it with him then. That would not do at all. He acted disrespectfully to me in front of the whole class; I had to re-assume authority in that moment. Had I ignored his behaviour and only spoken to him in private afterwards, the other students may have thought that I was okay with his behaviour.

In Korean culture, based on Confucian values, the authority of ones parents, ones teacher, and the king are equal. This kid would never have behaved in the same way were I a Korean professor.

In any case, we reconciled and all, is hopefully remedied.

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Odyssey of Cartier

Very seldom does an advertisement get my attention and adds on YouTube are usually immediately skipped or, if not possible, just ignored. Cartier's recent L'Odyssée de Cartier, however, gripped me almost from the start, pulled me into the magical alternative reality, with its absolutely beautiful cinematography perfectly blended with fantastical CGI, and a lovely score of haunting music by French film score composer Pierre Adenot.

Do watch this advert -- preferably full screen with the volume turned up -- and just enjoy the voyage. Well done, Cartier!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

I Love Getting Packages in the Mail

Recently I spoke with a friend about The Five Love Languages. The basic premise of the book is that people feel love differently. Some feel love through affection, others through gifts, others through words of affirmation, others through acts of service, and others through shared quality time.

My love language is not gifts. I appreciate them when I get them, but I do not feel any less loved if I don't receive a gift. I do, however, get quite excited when I receive a package in the mail. There is something childlike-and-wonderful about receiving mail -- no, not email (although I appreciate personal email too), but actual mail.

Just now a package came for me. I had a very good idea of its contents, yet I couldn't keep myself from getting excited at the mere thought of it. It happened to be books that I had ordered through Amazon a few weeks back. Now, of course, new books are reason enough to get me all fluttery with excitement.

My three new books are all on martial arts (philosophy):

I cannot wait to start reading them . . . although I'm currently busy rereading another excellent martial art book so the suspense will have to continue a little longer. Aahh!!!

Wake-up Song

I regularly wake-up with a song in my head and I'm quite often surprised at what this song is--many a time it is not even a song I have in my vast music collection, like the one I woke up with this morning: Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance".

Life must be good if you wake up wanting to dance!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Traditional Korean Dance and Music

I had a fabulous evening tonight. I went to the Sejong Center for Performing Arts to watch a performance featuring one of Korea's foremost tradional dancer, Dance-Master Park Kyung-Rang. We were not allowed to take any video during the performance, so I'll just embed other representative videos that I could find online below.

However, the evening turned from great to fantastic as other maestro's of Traditional Korean Music also joined the stage.

Lee Saeng-Kang evoked the deepest Korean nostalgia with his bamboo flute performance.

I was especially impressed with how he used the reed whistle to play a well known Western song, yet in line with the Oriental spirit of the instrument. In the video below, the song "Danny Boy" is performed.

Undoubtedly one of my favourite artists of the evening was gayageum master, Baek In-Young. The gayageum sounds truly crawl under your skin and make itself home in your soul. It is at once uncomfortable and nurturing.

One of his performances include a type of jazz jam that included a guitar, western drum set, and other instruments in the ensemble. It had me nearly jumping out of my chair of pure agitated joy. The video below features a different ensemble-set, but the idea is quite similar: a mixture of traditional Korean instruments with modern (Western) instruments.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Chinese Figurines

These two Chinese figures were in my home when I grew up. When I visited my brother earlier this year I saw them stationed outside of his house and just had to take pictures of them. I wonder how much icons like these influenced my psyche, creating in me a subconscious interest in the Orient.