Monday, July 28, 2014

OMG, Giardia

Now that I am living in America I am able to understand a lot of the conversations taking place around me. Nearby my apartment in the Tenderloin, many of the conversations are being had by insane members of society with themselves.


Conversations often border on the ridiculous even when the listener is not imaginary. For example, I was sitting on the steps by the water's edge at the Georgetown Waterfront Park enjoying the view of the Potomac River on a Sunday afternoon. I overheard one young woman make a eyebrow raising comment to her friend who had asked her what she thought of the view:

Whenever I see water I'm like 'Oh my god, giardia! I'm gonna die!'

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Tenderloin

I have lived a life of relative luxury most of the past 6 to 7 years, minus a nightmarish shared existence with 13 other men in a hovel in Mumbai. In San Francisco, my first month was spent in a spectacular cliffside abode in North Beach. I would wake up to a dramatic view of the monumental Bay Bridge for four weeks, but as the clock ticked away on my company housing I had to find a place of my own.

Despite a tremendously high number of drug addicts, lunatics, techies, and bums wandering its streets, a decaying transit system that last saw upgrades well before my birth, and an overwhelming scent of urine and marijuana consistently wafting through the air, San Francisco is one of the most desirable places to live in America. The city has a sizzling hot rental market, with property prices as high as many of its citizens. As the world's premier tech hub, the Bay Area draws in the best and brightest from the world, and all these outsiders need accommodation. The skyrocketing housing prices have even driven potential homeowners back into the rental market, increasing rents for all. 

During my first month in town, I spent my weekends and evenings visiting many apartments either via direct appointment with the property manager or at scheduled open houses. Most were hideous, ancient, or in shady neighbourhoods such as the infamous Tenderloin district, where Will Smith lined up for a free meal at a soup kitchen in the movie Pursuit of Happyness. The decent apartments had over 50 other applicants, some of whom boasted about their large salaries and bonuses out loud to scare away the competition. 

I also investigated a few short term sublets, but the current tenants were either clinically insane, unregistered sex offenders, or complete no shows. I was waiting for over 30 minutes for one one guy to show me his apartment and had to use the washroom in the meantime. I found a public bathroom but it was locked. About ten minutes later the door opened. I saw the couple who sleep inside were dusting off and packing up their belongings before heading out for the day. 

With my stay in North Beach coming to an end, I had to make a quick decision amongst a bevy of undesirable options (much like a Korean woman must do when choosing a mate). I settled on an apartment on the fringes of the Tenderloin. At any given time I am sure to have at least one of the following three items - Internet access, warm water, and a leaking toilet. My window faces an open air bar. It gets extremely loud during the weekends, but that at least drowns out the howls of despair, shrieks of agony, and wails of police sirens which would otherwise occupy my auditory range. 

*****

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. ~ Confucius

Monday, June 9, 2014

San Francisco Giants


If a game of baseball is to be enjoyed by one who is not particularly a fan of America’s pastime, then AT&T Park certainly provides a spectacular backdrop to do so. The stadium is situated on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, opening up to the bay. Yachts line the waters, their passengers looking for an out of the park home run ball to fall into their laps. With the yawns that a regular game of baseball tends to illicit in the casual observer, the side shows are of more interest. 


In Seoul's Jamsil Stadium, I had been entertained by the picnic-like atmosphere of the crowds slurping beer and munching on fried chicken while watching a scintillating team of cheerleaders perform in between innings. Even this small pleasure was muted by the absence of cheerleaders at AT&T Park.


My first Major League Baseball experience was a day game between the San Francisco Giants and their in-state adversaries, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The home team absorbed a 2-1 loss. The view of the bay was easily the first star with the crowd coming in second. Several karaoke style songs were sung by the crowd. There was also a ‘kiss cam’ which focused on random couples in the stands. Whenever they were projected on the screen they would lock lips and receive heavy applause.


A mother and son duo were taking in the game in the seats behind me. A member of the Dodgers roster was a Korean gentleman by the name of Hyun-jin Ryu. When his picture was displayed above the scoreboard, the kid proclaimed “I don’t like that guy!”. “Why?” inquired the mother. “Because he’s Japanese!” exclaimed the little racist. “Ummmm… Korean” the mother corrected.


*****

Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.
~ Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Seodaemun Prison


Japan occupied Korea for much of the first half of the 20th century. The annexation and forced occupation of Korea is well documented, with the Seodaemun Prison History Museum (서대문형무소역사관) in Seoul bearing witness to some of the cruelest acts committed by the Japanese during its expansionist period. 


Torture, rape, and murder are just some of the crimes that Koreans have suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Despite an unwavering admiration of their culture, mannerisms, style, and cuisine, many in Korea still harbour resentment towards a remorseless Japan for their harsh behaviour towards them during this dark chapter of history.


The original facilities at Seodaemun Prison were built in 1907, with a capacity of 500 prisoners. A place of reverence and a place of history, a visit here provides insights that no textbook can. Jail cells, execution rooms, and torture chambers have been hauntingly recreated. Korean independence fighters were imprisoned here, with many never making it out alive to see a free nation. 


*****

I have observed that the prosperity or misery of each people is in direct proportion to its liberties or its prejudices and, accordingly, to the sacrifices or the selfishness of its forefathers. ~ Juan Crisostomo Ibarra

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cheonan & the Barbarian


A prominent transportation hub in Korea, Cheonan also boasts a few points of interest such as a foreigner-only prison and the gargantuan Independence Hall of Korea. I only ended up at one of these two sites, and not the one some would presume. From the Cheonan train station I caught a bus to the Independence Hall. The heavy downpour on a rainy Saturday meant there were only a handful of visitors to the museum chronicling Korea’s past struggles and subsequent emergence as a modern day success story despite many trials, tribulations, and Japanese in its path.


The introductory message from the president of the Independence Hall had spurred my interest in visiting the facility:
The Independence Hall embodies the spirit of the Korean nation and informs people of the Korean people's dignity. For thousands of years throughout history, the Korean nation deeply suffered. But we tenaciously protected our ethnicity and country with a national spirit and an intense patriotism. In the modern age, no other people suffered as much as the Korean nation. 
It has been a hundred years since the Japanese imperialist stole our sovereignty and it has been sixty years since we regained our independence. Korea began as an extremely poor country but, even though Korea is a comparatively small country, we became a global economic power. This is a miracle in world history. To this date, no other people or country has accomplished anything like what has happened in Korea. 

The grandiose rhetoric is matched by the monumental scale of all the facilities within the Independence Hall of Korea. Following a long walk across the broad Plaza of the Nation and right before the entrance to the 7 exhibition halls of the museum is the 15 story high Grand Hall of the Nation. It is the largest tile-roofed building in Asia. The Statue of Indomitable Koreans, presumably also the largest such sculpture in Asia, can also be found here.


The patriotic destination was opened to the public on the anniversary of Korea’s Independence Day in 1987. I ended up having a few personal tour guides as I wandered through the exhibits, as many of the friendly staff members had time on their hands. One of the security guards even gave me a sheepish grin while we discussed our favourite K-pop artists. From the prehistoric era onwards, a lot of ground is covered within the many exhibits. I particularly enjoyed the recreated interior of the ancient tombs of the Goguryeo kingdom, which now fall within Chinese territory.


*****

“He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination." ― José Rizal