Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sean & Hayoung's Wedding

Photos from the wedding, before and after.

Click on a picture to enlarge it.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'm Getting Married!

I'll be getting married to the lovely and wonderful Hayoung (Haley) Kwon on November 2nd, 2013 in Yecheon, South Korea. We will be joined by my parents and the community that has surrounded and supported us since the beginning of our relationship back in October, 2011.
Next step, applying for her visa to the U.S.!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Song "Can't Find My Way Home" by Ryan Horne

My friend and bandmate, Ryan Horne, came to me with an original song and asked if I would help him produce and record it. He sent me a demo he recorded a number of years before and asked if I would re-record it and add instrumentation. After many hours of recording, programming and mixing, I present the final mix of "Can't Find My Way Home" by Ryan Horne, whom performs the vocals, guitar and mandolin.
Speaking for myself, I am very proud of this track and represents a high water mark in my path as a music producer.
We both sincerely hope you enjoy the song and share it with your friends and loved ones.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Edge of Development

Note: I do not attach a positive nor a negative connotation for the the word “development” and while its connotation and use is contentious, this post is not a forum for such semantic disputes.
 A summary of the beginning:
In the beginning, there was the Earth. It was really hot and then it cooled down. Eventually, plants and animals inhabited the more reasonable climates of the sea and land. Critters scurried, plants did plant things and over the course of time untold, humans walked erect out of the cradle of humanity (Ethiopia) and into the cradle of civilization (the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers). As I imagine it, whomever first walked into the area stood, eyes squinted and deeply focused on the horizon, one foot propped on a rock, hunched over, their body weight on their elevated knee (think a Homo Erectus Captain Morgan) and thought to themself, “this’ll do.”
After that they may have stopped for a snack, scratched their nether regions and defecated but the very next day they started kicking over rocks, diverting streams (think children diverting hose water in the street with sticks and rocks) and modifying the land the suit their needs. Indeed, this triggered a reversal in our relationship to the Earth. The Earth could no longer provide for us much in the way that we found it. We had terms now and for the first time in our history the Earth would abide by them.

This moment (or series of events, more likely) marked the point in which we discovered that we could design our environment: harvest wheat in fields, raise livestock, build fences out of trees, chisel pictures into rocks, write lasting testaments to our ingenuity and cultures on papyrus and then paper and then the Internet, build shelters out of diverse materials, cool them down with air conditioning and shop for dead animals, neatly organized by organism and vacuum sealed to guarantee freshness. Since this moment, humans have been on a trajectory and in the West it is a trajectory out of sight, out of mind.
Having lived in East Asia for the last 4 and a half years or so, I see the above image not as a contrast but as a continuation. The East has and is developing so quickly that one finds juxtaposed hand-tilling farmers and terraforming backhoes literally side by side. 

Nowhere in my travels have I seen such a stark and bold expression of the spirit of the tamers of the Earth than here in East Asia, specifically in South Korea and China where the economies and cities have developed at break-neck speed. While the lines between farmland, exurbs, suburbs and urban areas blur in the West,  the edges of development here in the East are as clear as a road or a line of demarkation. Like the four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, there many places one can stand, straddling urban chaos and developing, terraformed wasteland like in Zhuhai, southern China.

I took the above picture while visiting my brother in Zhuhai. On the right, urbanized and developed land and my brother’s apartment building and, on the left, an area that was once the Pearl River Delta. This land on the left is zoned for apartments though development seemed to be on hold at the time. Chinese developers have been dumping the excavated earth from flattened mountains in some areas and filling in the sea and wetlands in Zhuhai and elsewhere; this also happens in places like Hong Kong where the airport now sits atop land that was claimed from the sea.
It wasn’t until I combined the two images at the top of the post that I realized something profound and interesting: both men, the tilling farmer and the terraforming backhoe operator, were both trying to accomplish the same thing, a charade as old as civilization, moving an imperfect Earth to manifest our desire for abundant food and shelter.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Charging a Hardback - My Shame as an English Major and Computer Nerd

I have written about my conversion to ebooks and the Kindle before. That post can be read here.
I had a moment last night that I feel compelled to share. My Kindle was one of the first things I bought after moving to Korea, the first major purchase and, arguably, the wisest expenditure I've made in the last two and a half years. In that time, I have been all ebook, having read approximately 30 books between my Kindle and iPad. One of the major considerations in adapting to this new way of reading was minding the battery. If I had a free day to lounge at a cafe, I would always make sure to charge my device(s) the evening before, especially as my Kindle's charge capacity has dwindled. The battery used to be a rock star. In fact, about two years ago, I read the unabridged Count of Monte Cristo on a single charge.
Recently, however, I borrowed How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche from my friend Zach. The book is a hardback and I haven't read a physical book since I bought my Kindle in late 2010. I had some free time today so last night, as I was planning my day, I thought I should charge the book so it would be full and ready to rock n' roll once I got to Angel-In-Us Coffee. After deducting that neither my iPad nor my Kindle USB cables would work on the book, I slapped my forehead; I was trying to figure out which of my USB cables would charge this hardback book. For shame.

Cherry Blossoms and Flowers, pt. 2

Some more pics of flowers from around the 'hood.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cherry Blossoms Around My Neighborhood, Sunrise

Didn't even know there was a 7:00am on Saturday mornings! Here are some of the blossoms around my neighborhood, before they disappear until next spring :)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Look at the Map - Photographs and Memories

I've been busy retro-actively geo-tagging my photos in my Aperture library.  It's taken the better part of a year but I have finally finished the monumental task of assigning locations to almost every image in my photo library, spanning 12 years and tens of thousands of photos.
Ever since I got a smartphone, the Google Nexus One back in 2010, I've been fascinated that these devices can tag the GPS coordinates into an image. This alone is not that spectacular. But using software like iPhoto, Aperture or Lightroom, being able to view hundreds or thousands of images superimposed over a map of a country or the world sparked my imagination in a way that I haven't experienced since I was a boy, pouring over my dad's big red coffee table atlas.
I have been fortunate to travel as much as I have. To date I have been to 29 countries (including the U.S.), 27 since I started taking photos. To the right is a list, automatically generated by Aperture, of the 27 countries in which I have taken pictures. I have not always had a GPS-enabled camera, which is why I had to go through and tag each photo by hand. I often opted not to drill down beyond the city in which a picture was taken as my memory isn't as sharp as it used to be. But seeing all the pictures I've taken down to the city level is thrilling to me.
I look at the map and I look at the list and I am humbled. A funny thing now, it sparks my imagination, yes, but it also sparks memory. People encountered, food tasted, mountains conquered, disasters avoided, gifts received, wounds withstood, storms of rain, snow, dust and ice, campfires and bonfires, fireworks and fireflies. I'm 27 years old and I am at a crossroads, the intersection of imagination and memory, sunrise and sunset, cradle to the grave. This map is one of my most treasured creations. I just wanted to share with whomever reads this post.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

St. Patty's Day with Zach, Jihye and Hayoung

Zach, Jihye and I went to our local HomePlus to procure what international beers we couldfor an at-home beer-tasting festival. After we got home and were all set, Hayoung came to join us. We had a lot of fun with this project. Below is the video of our exploits; it includes our "tasting notes" and a photo of the beer we drank. We had fun setting up a little photo studio in my living room, lighting the bottle with my iPad screen and shooting from a tripod. Smile for the camera, baby!

정월대보름 - First Full Moon of the Lunar New Year

February 24th marked 정월대보름 (Jeong-wal Dae Bo-reum), the first full moon of the lunar new year. Koreans celebrate this holiday from the biggest cities to the smallest hamlets. People gather together, usually by a riverside, to tie their wishes for the new year onto an effigy. Writing and tying the wishes happen around five o'clock, before the sun starts to set. As people line up to write out their hopes for the new year, musicians perform, people eat street food and children fly kites. As the sun begins to set, people gather around the effigy, hoping for a good spot to watch as the straw is lit from all sides by people in traditional Korean dress, called hanbok (like a Korean kimono).

Hayoung and I went to the one in Andong. Fortunately, the site of the celebration was just about a 25 minute walk from the apartment. We arrived in time to write our wishes to paper and tie them to the effigy. We then walked around admiring the kites people were flying around the site. They say that the first person to see the first full moon of the lunar new year will have good luck for the reminder of that year.

After the effigy is lit, people light candles inside paper lanters to send off into the sky, again, taking their wishes on the lanters' journey.

The ceremony itself was a sight to behold, a thing of great beauty and destruction, noise and music. Hayoung wanted to be close to the fire while I opted for a nearby hillside for a better angle (I was shooting f/40). As usual, I find myself at a loss for words and find that my pictures may tell a better story than I am able to conjure with description alone. Here are some of my pictures from the event. Click on the pictures for a bigger view. Use the left and right arrow keys to move to the next picture. Press Esc when finished.

The whole ritual felt very pagan. Below is a video I took on my phone (sorry about the poor quality) of traditional music being played next to the pyre as it spat burning debris into the air on the cool, crisp early spring evening.

As a side note, I thought it interesting and worth mentioning, though probably not significant, that the event landed on the Jewish holiday of Purim. Purim is homophonic to the Korean holiday Bo-reum (when pronounced by a Korean). Both Koreans and Jews follow the lunar calendar. If that weren't enough, there is an interest in Judaism here that is hard to figure. For example, I saw the book at right in a book store here in Andong. It literally translates to "Talmud Humor" (as stated at the top of the book). Indeed, after asking Hayoung, she said she was familiar with and had parts of the Talmud though she never brought it up; she said she didn't realize it was a Jewish script. This book is proof that people here have enough of a basic understanding of the Talmud to understand humor around it. Now these are either really interesting conincedences or Koreans just may be one of the lost tribes of Israel. As I have said before, Koreans and Jews share a lot in cultural similarity. These are uneducated musings but significant enough that I thought they were worth mentioning. After all, some scholars believe the Khmer of Cambodia/Vietnam to be one of the lost tribes. In that respect, it doesn't seem so outlandish.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"I'm big in Japan"

After finding out I had some extra vacation time that I wasn't expecting, I asked my friend Zach if he wanted to go to Japan. This may seem like an off-the-cuff kind of suggestion; it's not often we get to go to another country when we have a little extra vacation. However, Japan is so close to Korea that, on clear days, it is visible from Busan (not in the way that China was visible from San Francisco, according to my Dad when I was 8 years old); before living and teaching in Korea, Zach lived and taught in Japan albeit not in Kyushu (the southern island to which we visited). Though he claimed it rusty, Zach's command of Japanese is incredible. Proximity, as well as having a seasoned translator/tour guide made Japan an ideal destination for a four and a half day outing. For those of you who don't know, Zach has been a close friend since his arrival in the winter of 2011, just six months after I came to Korea.

We had to take a train to Busan the evening before our morning ferry to Fukuoka and we were met by a mutual friend of ours whom we met through my girlfriend, Hayoung (Haley). Sang-Geon lived in NYC, studying English and buying limited edition Nike shoes for six months and we've managed to meet up with him a couple times since his return to Korea last summer. He met us downtown for dinner and a few drinks and to help us get a motel sorted. To save some money, Zach and I wanted to split a room; just watching Sang-Geon's face as he tried to explain that two dudes wanted to share a room at a motel to the proprietors of motels in the area was priceless. More so, we insisted on having a room that didn't have glass (see-through) walls dividing the room from the bathroom (that is more common in Korea that one might assume. Traveling heterosexual males are not quite their target clientele). After the motel was sorted, Sang-Geun brought a couple friends of his out and we had a great time together. After some darts, teaching his friends the finer points of beer pong and the sharing of many smiles, lewd hand gestures and bar food, Zach and I decided to turn in. We did, after all, have an appointment with the Land of the Rising Sun.

After a relatively quick two and a half hour ferry to Fukuoka, we made a b-line for the train station and took a two hour train to Nagasaki. Nagasaki may sound familiar, as it very well should. It was the target of "Fat Man", one of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, ending the U.S.'s involvement in the Pacific and, for all intents and purposes, World War II. Nagasaki was a beautiful coastal town with lots to offer the intrepid pedestrian. Here is Nagasaki in pictures. Click on the pictures for a bigger image; hit escape when you're finished.

It was important for us to go to Nagasaki though not just because it is a beautiful city and home to many friendly people. Personally, as an American, I felt I needed to pay my respects to the place and the spirit that my country had devastated. I feel conflicted about the bomb. Historically speaking, it represents an ethical conundrum, one that doesn't have an easy answer.

The thinking goes: if we drop the bomb, we can end the war and prevent the deaths of many more soldiers and civilians alike though taking out a whole city in the process. Or, we continue fighting without end in sight, resulting in countless more deaths and destruction at an unimaginable scale. Either way, everyone loses. That said, as a species we lost some innocence when the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 

Below, in its own slideshow, are pictures from the Nagasaki Peace Park, a memorial dedicated to the perseverance of peace and the elimination of atomic weapons around the globe. As a side note, I greatly respect and admire the spirit of the Peace Park. I have been to the Holocaust museums in Washington D.C., Berlin and Jerusalem and while powerful, the essence was to focus on the past and the tragedy. It is obviously at the discretion of the victims how to preserve the horror so future generations won't forget. While I found the Holocaust museums oppressing and spiritually suffocating, I found the Nagasaki Peace Park and museum emboldening. Instead of focusing on themselves as a victim, they focus on the future, that all peoples abandon atomic weaponry. The Peace Park, as I experienced it, projected, 'let all learn from the misery experienced here'. The question of justice was not posed. There was no proclamation of injustice nor was there the brooding guilt like I saw in Berlin (over The War alone, not the Holocaust). The past is past, the future is sacred, agency exists in the seconds we let slip  though the fingers of humanity. Here are my images from the Peace Park and the hypocenter where the bomb exploded above the city. Click on the pictures for a bigger image; hit escape when you're finished.

The trip was really fun but the fact that both Zach and I have both recently delved into photography made the trip somewhat of a photo shoot. Between the two of us we carried two Canon 450D's, two f/18-50's, an f/40 and an f/50-250 telephoto. We spent a lot of the trip composing shots, talking about settings and experimenting with different lens, setting and sun light combinations. I was also shooting with my iPhone 4 but that's neither here nor there.

After Nagasaki, we went to Saga, halfway between Nagasaki and Fukuoka. Zach wanted to take me to Saga specifically to stay in a capsule hotel. He guessed, and rightly so, that I would get a huge kick out of staying at one. Capsule hotels are usually occupied by business men, traveling overnight for a day or two. They look like the sleeping quarters on the space ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a 1960's version of the future. Each white plastic-shelled capsule had a built-in TV with two channels: golf and porn, a clock radio, a reading light and they came with a pillow and a blanket. While out in Saga, we told people we were staying at a capsule hotel, which was met with a look of confusion. I guess people only stay in them as a cheap alternative to a hotel and tourists rarely go out of their way to stay in one. But Zach hit the bulls-eye and I was thrilled to stay there. It was a great experience.

While in Saga, I wanted sushi, the real deal, sparing no expenses. Zach and I wandered the empty streets of Saga for about an hour until we found what we were looking for, something Zach considered an authentic sushi bar. By comparison, the sushi we get at home (The U.S.) is quite good but nothing I've ever had compared to the textures and explosive flavors of the fare enjoyed at this little sushi place in Saga. Below are some pictures of the meal. Apologies for the quality but I decided to leave my good camera at the hotel and opted to stick with my iPhone that night.

At the restaurant we met an older couple, vacationing pensioners. The man bought Zach and I some beers to enjoy with our sushi dinner. Zach made pleasant conversation with them on their way out, wishing them a good night. The man said something that really tickled our funny bones, "oh, we're not going to sleep!" They left us to our meal and we ate our fill.

As we left the restaurant, one of the staff members spoke to Zach, letting us know that she was charged to deliver us to a karaoke bar to spend more time with the pensioners. After walking for three minutes and a few twists and turns later, we were delivered to a one-room karaoke bar, the pensioners from the restaurant waiting for us. The older man, whom we nicknamed Grandpa Japan, asked us what we liked to drink. We said anything but he insisted on buying us some top-shelf whiskey...the whole bottle! We sat with them at a little table near the bar and one of women working at the bar sat at our table just to refill our glasses with ice, water and whiskey. As we sat there, Grandpa Japan was trying to convince Zach that he was rich. Zach pleasantly responded that he must be and he was very generous to be sharing his evening and his whiskey with us. Grandpa insisted and he took out the equivalent of a $100 bill out of his pocket, tore it in half and gave one half to each of us. He told us that if we could figure out how to put it back together it was ours.

We stayed at the karaoke bar for a good two hours, singing Beatles songs with some of the other older folks at the bar until our hosts decided that they had had enough and were ready to go home. After they left, Zach and I went for a walk back in the direction of our hotel. As we walked a younger guy, about our age, came up to us on a bicycle. He said that he studied in Australia and asked us if we wanted to go to a club. Thankfully he was up front with us that he was a promoter and his job was to get people to go to his friend's club. We told him that we were actually in the mood for a bar. He said he knew just the place.

He walked us to a second-floor bar and told us he would come back after he finished working. Zach, friendly and outgoing as usual, made friends with everyone in the bar, asked permission for me if I could go behind the bar and DJ for a while and got us an amazing deal on drinks: $30 for all we could drink. We stayed there a couple hours but realizing that it was getting late (or early) and that we had to get a train in the morning, we decided to call it a night. We walked back to the capsule hotel, crawled into our retro-futuristic sleeping pods and were out. I woke up in the wrong capsule. 

The next morning we took a train to Fukuoka where we would spend the last three evenings (two days) of our trip. The day we arrived in Fukuoka, we decided to lay low, spend a few hours at a mall, drank coffee and recuperated.

The next day, Zach took me to a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirit of students and study. He said that before the national exams in Japan, the Dazaifu Shrine is flooded with hopefule students trying to make amends with the spirit. Pictures (sometimes) speak louder than words and I cannot do this place justice. It was absolutely beautiful and I hope my pictures convey just a fraction of the majesty of this shrine.

That same evening, we met up with one of Zach's co-workers from his glory days living in Shizuoka and Zach's friend's boyfriend. They are both English teachers and as nice as can be.

It's hard to say you've been to a place if you haven't actually hung out with any of the locals there and that was something our trip was sorely missing. They took us out for two meals, one at an Izakaya (like a Japanese tapas restaurant) and another at an authentic underground ramen bar. They were quite pleasant and it was fun hearing Zach and Chihiro recounting their past; I've known Zach a long time, about two years, but I forget sometimes I haven't known him his whole life. I got to see a side of Zach I had never seen before, back in his element, speaking a foreign tongue, slurping ramen with the best of 'em. I've seen him equally as happy but always in a different way. I'm fortunate, for so many reasons, that he was my tour guide and companion on this trip.

Our last day was spent taking it relatively easy. We scotch-taped our money from Grandpa Japan and for our final dinner, we went to a carousel sushi restaurant at the mall. The damage? About $89 worth of sushi.

I've never been gung-ho about going to Japan but I thought it would be foolhardy not to go with Zach, someone who has lived there, loved it there and was passionate about sharing his experience with a newbie; I think he got a lot out of taking me too, seeing a place familiar to him with a new set of eyes.  

After living in both the Philippines and Korea, two former colonies of the Japanese empire, I have been exposed to a lot of anger, resentment and yes, even hate towards the Japanese and their government (former and present). In the US we were taught that the evil Japanese were responsible for Pearl Harbor and they deserved to be bombed (though magically they became good guys around the 1980's when we started importing from them). I carried a lot of historical baggage when we went to Japan but I went with as open mind as I could manage. I was rewarded with smiles, warmness, kindness and hospitality beyond compare. I don't think it was because Zach spoke Japanese. I don't speak a lick of Japanese and I was treated the same exact way. Japan has a complicated history and remains a complicated society. I saw only a small part of the country and met only a fraction of the people who call it home. But like a Basho haiku, great complexity can be summed up into something small, simple and shared, like a smile or a bowl of miso ramen. That beauty and simplicity is how I choose to remember my time in Japan.