Appleton is one of the last places on earth I would expect to have a star sighting, but lo and behold, it happened. As one of my best friends (visiting from Madison) and I ate breakfast at a sleepy College Ave. diner, in walks Willem Dafoe and his wife!
Apparently, he’s in Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Film Festival this weekend and decided to visit Appleton, where he grew up. He ate quickly, posed graciously for pictures with all of the wait and kitchen staff, then headed out on foot towards the Lawrence campus. I wonder what he thought of the “New North“?
From the moment Matty left Ann Arbor for Seoul in August 2006, it seems that someone pressed the 10x fast forward button on my life. First a desperate rush to finish the dissertation before my funding dried up, then the job search, house hunting, leaving AA for Korea, the botched closing, settling into Appleton, getting to know the neighbors, hosting housewarmings, visiting family, etc. Just as I started to catch my breath, I began faculty orientation, which lasted all day, every day of last week. By Friday evening, I was totally exhausted, but felt a million times less anxious about joining the Lawrence community. I could not have imagined a more welcoming, unpretentious, supportive, and dedicated group of colleagues. To top off the week, new faculty and their families were invited on a biking trip with the provost at Björklunden, a beautiful 400-acre retreat in Door County that serves as Lawrence’s “northern campus” (one that faculty members are allowed to use with students and family free of charge on a space-available basis — what a fabulous job perk!).
Sometime between my second glass of wine last night with everyone in the cozy great room and our gorgeous bike ride today along Lake Michigan, I was finally, finally able to take a deep breath, truly relax, and realize how incredibly lucky I feel. I’m sure things will get hectic and stressful again in a week after classes begin and I take up the manuscript again, but for now, shhhh… I’m enjoying the moment.
Our apologies for the radio silence since moving in. Where have the last three weeks gone? We’ll do our best to post a more detailed update with photos of the house (for those of you who haven’t seen it yet). Until then, all is well. We’re loving the banglangdang, our neighborhood, and our neighbors. My office is set and I start week-long new faculty orientation tomorrow. We see Wilco on Tuesday in Madison. Next weekend, we head to both Hollandale and Door County. Oh, and during the trail portion of our run today we stumbled upon a wasp hive and were attacked (3 very painful stings each) as we ran frantically for our lives! Silly us — we feared Appleton would be boring!
“dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me”
Coming home, via Chicago, so, I might as well play the song that says the same, even if it’s opening stanza isn’t the most uplifting.
Woke up at 5.30 am and decided to head out for a little stroll up to Seongmi-san to say goodbye. Saw lots and lots of old men and women getting their workout on. It was a rather joyful way to go through an otherwise sad experience.
The roads were almost empty….
but the mountain was not…
I shed a tear or two as I made my final ascent up the natural sanctuary that made Seogyo-dong a bit more tender space to live in.
The mountain spirit was undisturbed and told me to get a move on.
The ajumma was certainly getting on with her business…
Some grass and a flower in the wind…
The way home…
and the path back, for whenever I want to return.
My last stroll made me really miss my neighborhood. Just seeing things that are so normal that will again become so foreign: the cab driver who accepted my offering of orange juice immediately, without suspicion and instead only a smile and “thank you!”; the ajummas having their kaffee klatch on the mountain at 5.45 am.; the ajeossis bringing up their transistor radios to listen to trot music and clatter on about the ajummas below who are clattering on about them as well; the lovely grandma who huffs on by, but not without saying “Good morning!” to me in English as she passes; the strange looking ajeossi who sings to himself so loud and profoundly, oblivious to whomever may pass.
I saw more people at 5.30 am in my ‘hood than I may see at 12 noon in my home to be. I’m starting to think that in some ways, the culture shock of going from Korea to the US may pale in comparison to going from “huge city” to “small town.” Here, if you want things to happen to you, you just go for a walk, but back home, I think it’s going to take a lot more effort on my part to get the pot stirred up. It’s a recipe for a bit of loneliness if I don’t take care. Will there be a grandma in Appleton to wish me “Good Morning”? A cabbie who joyfully accepts a gift from an unknown stranger? I’ll find out soon enough. In just few hours, I’ll be coming home, via Chicago.
Some brief thoughts, but first a song for your enjoyment. The song and thoughts have no relation whatsoever. I’ve just been giving it a pretty hard listen, so, I thought I’d share. Pure pop, of the summer variety, by a band named Phoenix. They hail from Paris, and sing in English. Go figure… Song’s called, “One time too many.”
We said goodbye to Jaime, who had a splendid time here in Korea (and we had a splendid time hosting her). It was her first time in Asia, and she was very excited to take in everything. She seemed to really like the bath house, especially. I second that.
The monsoon weather has set in to a pretty even pattern, lots of haze, sometimes cloudy, occasional showers… and always humid. Luckily, we’ve escaped the wrath of heat I faced two years ago when I was here for a summer of research. Daily temps over 100 and scorching sunshine. No thanks.
A sign that home is near . . . the 10 day weather forecasts no longer apply.
A sign that will be near our home . . . I ordered a wood name plaque for the 방랑당 bahngnahngdahng. It turned out incredibly well. I got goose bumps when I saw it. Then, later that night, two of my study partners, Yujin and Giseok, gave me a going away present – a big dojang (stamp) with the characters 放浪堂. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Gave me goosebumps and a few tears. I’d show pictures, but that’d spoil it. If you want to see them, you have to come to the bahngnahngdahng.
Finally, we visited the Korean Folk Village in Yongin (한국민속촌). I hadn’t been there in 13 years. They’ve made continual improvements, and the entire site is just fabulous. The preservation of trees has made all the difference, as each section remains separated from the other, lending the entire park a feeling of multiple cozy villages nestled into one another. An interesting side-note, and one I hope that others will catch onto, such that the little guys might gain a little fame… the village is full of chubby, beautiful cats! There were cats everywhere we looked. Of course, they steered clear of the humans, and rightfully so, but they seemed to love the village the most of anyone. They reminded me of the cat portraits from the Joseon dynasty painters Kim Hongdo (김홍도):
and my personal favorite, Byeon Sangbyeok (변상벽):
-( I don’t know the title 😦 )
To the cats of minsokchon MAN-SE!- may they live long, peaceful, and happy lives (and stop fighting with each other, you two I saw – you have a huge space to yourselves, enjoy it!).
As my time is wrapping up here in Korea, maybe earlier than I imagined, I’m buoyed by the fact that I have a home to return to. This is a circumstance I wasn’t so sure of. Now, as a vagabond, I should embrace the unknown a little better, I know. But… let’s just say that being torn out of these textured surroundings will be a little bit easier of a task if I have some sort of comfortable fabric to wrap myself in when it happens. Which is to say, I’ve officially begun mental preparations for leaving. Part of it has been doing the opposite of what Dominica is doing… For each thing I notice that I love each day, I’m trying to come up with something I don’t like so much. (today: I cannot stand how horribly drivers disrespect crosswalks/redlights – crossing the street is extremely dangerous, greenlights mean nothing, and the vaunted humanism of Korean Confucianism obviously does not extend to pedestrians).
Funny thing is, I’ve lately come upon some really nice new things here. A restaurant we affectionately call “the commune,” a coffee shop with air conditioning and wireless internet right around the corner, and last but most: CutiePie.
I’ve tried to befriend each and every cat I’ve come across in my 10 some months here. The only ones I’ve been blessed enough to touch are those obviously domesticated and living within someone’s shop. Basically, they can’t escape even if they want to. But then the other day, something magical happened on the way home from lunch at the “commune.” I saw two lovely cats sunning themselves on the wall next to the church behind my house. Entranced as I am in such occasions, I approached, mouth agape in childish giddiness. Dominica laughed as she always does, giggling at my hopelessness, and begging me to let the poor things sunbathe in peace. We both know well that cats really, really despise people here, perhaps even more than the people despise the cats, and that’s saying a lot. Their evasive technique is but one sign of the disdain they suffer from the two-legs, more tragic are the ever present absent tails, often times just gnarled nubs, testifying to some little shit’s devious deeds.
I understood Dominica’s compassion for these wee ones, but, childlike raffamuffin that I am, my catcuddling instincts are beyond my control. That, and I sensed something different in these guys. . . and I was right. Of the two, the one in back raced off, then stopped and looked on with curiosity. But the one closest to me merely slinked away slowly, with minimal effort. This alone was a first! Coming closer, I began to click my tongue, and the next thing you know, she starts walking my way. Success! I embraced her and stroked her bony back. My first befriended kitty. She’s cute, so I named her CutiePie… and the next day I came by the same place and got her some tuna. I haven’t seen her since and don’t know if I will again, but we’ll always have our two sweltering afternoons together. Sigh….
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Name: | Domattica |
Location: | Middle USA | We are two academics who are entering middle age and only now entering upon the world of full employment and permanent domicileage. Hail to the chief. After the Seoul sojourn, we bend on back to the northern hinterlands, a homecoming of sorts. Can vagabondage persist beyond a job contract and mortgage? More...