The invisible tie

I tried to bring some levity to work today, but the resulting humor was not what I expected.  I wore my white Mickey Mouse tie with my charcoal gray suit and deep blue dress shirt.  I’ve had the tie since I received it as a Christmas gag gift a long, long time ago.  I digged through my closet to inventory my ties when I came across the Mickey Mouse tie.  I’ve never really worn it because it’s such a bold fashion statement–who can take seriously someone who wears a Mickey Mouse tie?  Maybe if I were a Disney executive I could get away with wearing it, but I’m not supposed to be in the entertainment industry.  Lately work has been really hectic and in need of some lightheartedness, so I decided to be bold and wear my Mickey Mouse tie.  I thought it was a brilliant idea–subtle humor.  Keep in mind that my work iis a fairly buttoned-down place.  It was easy for me to assume that someone would notice if I came to work with a comical tie.  I even brought a backup tie, a red power tie, in the event that my brave move backfired. 

What happened at work was funny, but it wasn’t at all what I expected.  Not one person noticed my tie!  White on deep blue is hard not to notice.  People must have been so preoccupied thinking about work that they weren’t aware of their surroundings.  It’s like getting a haircut and then coming to work expecting people to notice.  No one noticed the Mickey Mouse tie.  I had to laugh.  People were so serious and distracted at work that they didn’t even notice humor right in front of their faces.  I talked to many people today, and they looked right at me and the tie dangling down my chest.  Perplexed, I finally asked a few people why they hadn’t noticed.  They laughed heartily and responded, "Well, I had no idea!."  Oh, so now you notice.  When a place becomes humorless, it’s sometimes not enough to lend humor.  Sometimes you also have to wake up the audience too.

Based on the lack of enthusiasm for my moderate attempt at humor, I’ve decided to add my Mickey Mouse tie to my regular business attire.  At least I’ll be laughing.

Literary musings

On Sunday I started reading a book I purchased early last year, “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini.  It’s a wonderful debut by a young man from rural Montana.  I haven’t had much time to read since I bought it, but I managed to read a bit yesterday while at work.  I read a little over 100 pages—not many, but as much as I could while monitoring laborers.  The novel is a fantasy about a 15-year-old boy named Eragon who finds an egg that hatches into a dragon.  Set in the mythical land of Alagaësia, it is the story of how dragons and dragon riders are reborn in an age when evil rules the land.  Touted as an epic reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s works, the book is influenced by many fantasy classics, including the “Lord of the Rings” and “Dragonriders of Pern” series by Anne McCaffrey

I chose to read this book for three reasons.  First, I have long been a fan of fantasy and science fiction books.  I especially enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis ’ “Chronicles of Narnia,”  Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” and “Incarnations of Immortality” series, Terry Brooks’ “Shannara” series, and David Edding’s “Belgariad” and “Mallorean” series.  My love of fantasy began when I read Lloyd Alexander’s “The Black Cauldron” while in elementary school.  Although some would disagree with me, I still regard David Eddings’ twin series to be the prieminent works in the fantasy genre.  I remember reading the entire five-book “Belgariad” series in one weekend as a kid (I read a lot).  I digested fantasy novels as quickly as I could afford to buy them.  I rarely have time to read novels anymore.  Any reading time is usually spent studying foreign languages or perusing magazines.  I can’t remember the last novel I read.  Perhaps it was “Memoir of a Geisha,” an excellent debut novel by William Golding about the life of geisha in Japan from the 1920s to the 1950s.  Regardless, I rarely read anything in the fantasy genre anymore.  I did read J.K. Rowling’s "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" a couple years ago.  It was an enjoyable, easy read, but it lacked an epic struggle I always enjoy in a fantasy series.  Rowling’s villian Valdemort is too abstract a character, and Harry Potter is too front and center in the series.  Paolini’s "Eragon" is an excellent debut for a young writer, but it too lacks the depth of earlier fantasy series.

I also chose to read "Eragon" because the author’s story personally resonates with me.  Christopher Paolini grew up in a place I know well, Paradise Valley, Montana.  I also spent some of my childhood in Montana, and I see vivid images of Montana thread throughout his story.  Someone who has read “Eragon” but has never visited Montana might not pick up on the allegories of rural Montana he weaved into his story.  I can picture the mountains that surround the area where he grew up, the streams, forests, and valleys.  I can imagine the subsistence farming and farm life that he saw around him while growing up in rural Montana.  Paolini was just 15 when he began writing his story.  Not coincidentally, his protagonist is 15 years old.  Eragon is Paolini’s alter ego, and the dragon is the mythical friend that Paolini imagined as he read books such as “Dragonriders of Pern” amidst the majestic countryside surrounding him.  Palancar Valley in the story is none other than his very own Paradise Valley.  Paolini’s own story makes me wonder about a life that wasn’t meant to be for me.  I was also a teen with a vivid imagine and a penchant for enjoying fantasy.  I immersed myself in reading, and I loved creative writing.  The dust now covers the many fantasy stories that I wrote and never published.  One of my stories written years ago actually reminds me of “Eragon”—it features a naïve boy with a strong sense of wonder and a search for destiny, a youth stuck in a place where he doesn’t belong who is suddenly ripped away from all he has known, thrust involuntarily into an epic adventure.  Paolini must have felt the same way as Eragon, and he found it cathartic to draw from his own life experiences when writing his book.  I know he did, because did too I when I was young.  Paolini probably felt that he was “stuck” in rural Montana, and he escaped from its mundanity by reading about fantasy worlds far beyond Paradise Valley.  He turned his story into a gem of a book that is now a critical and financial success.  My own stories are still sitting on a shelf, waiting to be polished and published.  

Finally, reading Paolini’s book inspires me to write.  Paolini represents to me someone I could have been—a professional author.  Instead, I chose this life.  I don’t regret my choice at all.  Here I am in Korea living a great life.  Paolini is a bit of an alternate reality for me, representing a life that never was.  Fate has a funny way of messing with you.  Ten years ago I made a fateful choice not to do what I am doing now.  My life came full circle, and here I am living one of my dreams.  Writing professionally is another dream of mine, and something in my mind tells me that someday I will.  I do want to return to writing fiction.  This blog sustains me while I only have a little time to write.  Someday I will return to writing full time and will publish a novel.  I have some great ideas.  It is amazing to me to see how many of my ideas have turned up in popular books and movies.  Unfortunately, many are dated, and I have not had an original idea for a long, long time.  Time and responsibility have dulled my creative mind.  I used to daydream about great, lofty ideas, and now I am resigned to focus on day to day tasks.  Still, I’ve never lost my desire to write stories.  One of my dreams is to walk into a bookstore and see one of my books featured at the front of the store.  It won’t happen anytime soon, if ever, but I will continue to hope…and write.

With the randomness of a bee

I didn’t get much sleep this weekend because too much happened.  Just seven hours after I said goodnight to my classmates, I woke up and joined a couple Korean coworkers for “Walking at Namsan,” a walkathon sponsored by the Before Babel Brigade to commemorate Earth Day 2005.  Although Earth Day was last Thursday, the event was held on a Saturday to increase turnout.  The event was held at Namsan (South Mountain), the mountain where I hiked a few weeks ago in a vain attempt to visit Seoul Tower.  I didn’t know much about the event other than that it was billed as a seven kilometer “walkathon.”  The “walkathon” turned out to be more of an easy hike than a walk because the paved, seven kilometer trail winds its way around the flanks of Namsam.  Along the way, we ascended and descended several hundred feet up and down the mountainside.  The day was gorgeous—perfect weather for going on a long walk/hike.  We started at National Theater located at the base of the mountain.  About 3,000 people, including many expatriates, joined in the festivities. 

BBB did a fabulous job organizing the event.  We started the day with face painting.  Of course, with my occasionally goofy personality, I couldn’t resist painting my own face.  I stood in line with all the kids and let an artist paint my face.  My female colleagues adorned themselves with painted flowers, but I was too cool for that.  Instead, I asked the artist to paint a single green leaf on my cheek.  After all, I was a leaf among flowers.  (In Asian tradition, a man among women is a “leaf among flowers.”)  The event started with jazzercise-style calisthenics designed to help participants stretch their limbs before embarking on the walkathon.  We needed to stretch, because the walk/hike was much more strenuous than anticipated (at least one unlucky fellow was carried away in an ambulance).  Just before the walkthon, we all released orange and white balloons into the air.  Although this was a nice show of unity, I thought it a bit odd that we would release non-biodegradable, synthetic materials into the air in honor of Earth Day.  It’s not a very Earth-friendly thing to do.

Following the walkathon, we returned to the plaza outside National Theater.  We ate sandwiches provided by Paris Baguette, one of Korea’s premier bakeries.  The BBB gave away a plethora of prizes, including tickets to Jeju Island, dinner packages, and watches.  Alas, my colleagues and I won nothing.  Solid Gold-style disco dancers provided kitschy entertainment.  I much preferred watching the traditional Korean drummers who closed out the event.  An elderly gentleman dressed in street clothes serenaded the costumed drummers with a traditional flute that echoed throughout National Theater plaza.  It was a beautiful, impromptu accompaniment.  All in all, the day was enchanting.  I highly recommend walking around Namsan if you’re planning to stay in Seoul for awhile and enjoy hiking. 

When I came home, I was determined to have a quiet, uneventful night.  I washed our car caked with yellow dust.  I vacuumed and straightened up our house.  I was in the middle of reassembling a baby’s bouncer chair for a friend when I got a phone call from a colleague who just arrived in town.  He wanted to go out for drink!  I just couldn’t say no.  It was Saturday night, and he wanted to get out and see a bit of the town.  It’s been hard for me to sustain a pseudo-bachelor lifestyle night after night, but it’s hard to turn down a good friend.  We went out for a drink at a local pub and enjoyed Guinness and crab cakes.  Both were delicious and brought back memories of dining at the Delaware coast last summer.  In early April when pseudo-bachelorhood began I was determined to exercise more and consume less, but my schedule has not been forgiving.  I know I can’t complain, because what I do is up to me.  Unless you are already actively working out, it’s much too easy to say yes to social activities and postpone exercising.  I have a couple more weeks to redeem myself by getting into the gym.  I am not confident that I will.  But that’s entirely up to me.

I went into work today to help monitor some interior construction.  I worked 12 hours straight with only a couple short breaks for lunch and dinner.  It’s a really easy way to earn good money (I’m paid overtime on Sunday).  I did nothing more than monitor the workers and read a book during down time.  Nevertheless, it was a mind-numbing experience doing virtually nothing for long periods of time.  The experience gave me a chance to observe Korean laborers at work.  I gleaned a couple of observations that may or may not be applicable to Korean culture at large.  Perhaps these insights only apply to the workers I observed.  On the one hand, the workers worked diligently and took care and pride in their work.  They painted, stained, polished, and repeated these processes over and over again until they were satisfied with their work.  They were very engrossed in what they were doing and didn’t mind contorting their bodies to get the right angle to finish the job.  Their craftsmanship was impeccable.  On the other hand, I could not figure out any rhyme or reason to their work methodology.  Much like bees appear to move randomly from flower to flower during pollination, these workers jumped around as they worked.  They would paint one corner of a wall and then move across the room and paint some more.  They cleaned one window but did not clean the others.  My Korean language skills are not advanced enough to understand their conversations, so I could not ascertain whether there was a method to their work.  At the end of the day the work was finished, but I think that if they had been a bit more methodical they would have worked more efficiently.