How Do We Define Real?

November 6, 2011

Ironically, when I left the Island of Bali, and also when I left Jakarta it rained.  I absolutely love the rain.  As Ray Charles sang, “It’s a rainy night in Georgia, feels like its raining all over the world.”  Living in Georgia, I know the truth of that song.  For me, the smell, the sound, the presence of rain brings out the contemplative….

As magnificent this experience has been, my good fortune is not lost on me.  To have opportunities such as this to expand my breast….I am most grateful for….

To say the least, having the immersive experience of not only being in various countries on the other side of the world, but seeing first hand Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucionist culture first hand….is, well to say the least, a life-time type of experience….not to mention that South Korea has the largest Christian church in the world (1 million plus).  When I make these trips…learning is the most important goal, experiencing cultures is a goal, but getting to know the people….the human side….that is what is most important!

So often when we discuss other countries and societies, the human factor gets lost in the term used to describe them.  We hear about Hindu’s, but not the people.  We hear about Muslims, but not the people.  We see pictures of monks, but what about the people…what about their humanity….even on the other side of the world, each person has a story….a human story…

And so, it was amazing to hear their stories….to hear about their parents, their families, their questions about life, their quests to develop their lives….and come to find out…we are all not that different….even when it comes to War.  With my travels, I often wonder, who is actually at War…what is at War…people, ideas, desires for power….in all of this…where is our humanity…do we take the steps to develop it…or do we just leave it to be haphazardly developed through the processes of socialization dominate in each of our countries….or do we take an active approach to as my friend Consuela says…”to improve our literacy, through unlearning….

While there are many things I could touch on that I’ve learned throughout this trip, I wouldn’t want the most significant points to become lost in the volume of experiences.  And so, be mindful of just obtaining your information from one source.

Bali is indeed a paradise….but it is only a paradise for some.  Ubud, the coast and some aspects of the mountains are a haven…other parts not so much.  In some areas, you would think that you are in Haiti…in particular the “bidon-villes”…homes built on top of each other.  Definitely when you leave the western world or at the least the United States, the concept of personal space departs.  Just like in many other places I’ve visited, people in this area seem to be stacked upon each other.  Not quite a slum, but not luxury.  On the other hand, on the way to the airport, we drove by a river…full of trash/waste.  People were wading and swimming through it…collecting items.  It may be similar to some South American countries where people mine the trash to find items of value to sell…I don’t know….

All is not fine….but, poverty is relative.  However, there is a stark contrast between poverty in the United States and global poverty.  And as we become encompassed in our excesses and in our convenience….or even the exceptional view we have of ourselves, it is easy to allow the narrowness of our thinking to make us a trite bit self-important…making absolutely no contribution to the world or those around us…yet, consumed with our own exceptionalism.  Considering the quest for food, the attempt to find a dry place in the house when it rains, attempting to keep the water out so that the dirt floors don’t get muddy…so many things faced every day without pause…but, in our exceptionalism…what do we pray for? What are the challenges we bemoan every day?  And if the God is privy to our prayers just as God is privy to the prayers of the woman sleeping with her children in the street, then how trite must many of us appear.

If the attitude is that we are exceptional and they are not, thus we all reap what we deserve…well, what can be said about the perspective of the asinine mind.  But, with some humility, if we can place all of these considerations in the balance, then what type of person do we become.  As human beings, are we improving…are we becoming better, or are we following a course of stagnation and insignificance…setting up our children to make war with the implications of such?

Considering this extensive experience along with those in other countries that I have had, coming back to the United States requires a bit of re-orientation, at times.  Oddly enough, for some of you movie buffs….coming back put me right in line with Neo from the Matrix…figuratively, I could hear Morpheus saying,

“What is real? How do you define real?  If you are talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain….”

Check it out:

And so, over the years when I was in a contemplative mode in West Africa or recently during a visit to a temple, the contemplative mind suggests we ask ourselves, are we responding to and contributing to something that is real in this world.  That perception could be shaped by the broadness or narrowness of our views.  Of course, this also impacts the depth of insight we have into multiple realities.  Never-the-less, this is a question we should ask ourselves…and it is an answer we must produce for ourselves.

Either way….I am profoundly grateful for the friends I have made in all walks of life.  And, trips such as this drive home the point for me that it is critical to make travel, immerse yourself in literature or engage in a vehicle that can transport our minds across the globe…in fact, it is imperative…particularly since we are going to be required to improve our literacy to become better global citizens.  Hope you enjoyed…and see you on the next trip…

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Seoul by Night

November 1, 2011

There are many things about Seoul that captures your mind during the day….but, I must say that this city is absolutely beautiful by night….again, even order is present at night…. Like any city, problems exist…one impressive item regarding Seoul, is that while they embrace their traditions…they have no problem trying something new.  Between the naturally occurring and manufactured rivers/streams significantly numbered groups of people gather around them each night.

Ridiculous view…those walkways next to the water…absolutely beautiful!

This is one of the sources of the man-made rivers running through downtown…..

Along the river, there are certain places where they have mist machines in place.  And, so…as you walk around…the mist begins to shoot out…the colored lights come on and start moving in synch to a particular tune…thus the light show begins 🙂

When you turn off of the main roads and walk through what we would call an ally….that is where you find an innumerable amount of stores, restaurants and shops….each has a sign lined up on the streets…makes for a really interesting sight….

This is where I roamed when it was time to eat…unlike some other places I’ve been….you do find English signs here and there…but for the most part everything is in Korean….signs, menus…everything…and so my first stop I came across an:

If you click on the picture….or look closely…you will see a tank full of Octopus… do you like your octopus?  🙂  Now if it is sliced in a certain way, or cooked a certain way I may try it….and I’m the guy who demands local food when I travel abroad…with this exception in place…it is one thing to have some octopus in a dish….an entirely different issue to watch it swim around and them pick out the unlucky fellow…needless to say…”No Thank you” is the word for today 🙂

Fish tank in/outside restaurants are common place….they really emphasize freshness…and so you will generally see a fish tank where they store the fish until you come buy it 🙂

ok!!!! Finally found something to eat.  Do you see that plate setting, ridiculous….in the middle where you see the meat….is a grill with coals in it….that way customers can cook their own food.  Let me say…that was just amazing….went back the next night also….very fresh and delicious 🙂

Stomach is full….so back to strolling and the first thing I come upon is this building…so indicative of how beautiful this place is…and peaceful even….

Another beautiful sight….

Several shops like this one exist….it is your “Ginsing” shop….and man do they have a lot of it 🙂 ….

Ok, guess I am forced to talk about the shopping….there were so many stores, seriously though, if you come here…you better have either saved some money….or have the credit cards ready….make sure you are planning for the expenses….because the chain stores, luxury shops, and street vendors are all jammed into the same place 🙂

Sights such as this are quite common…especially when there is money to spend….and there are things to spend it on 🙂  This is the sight by day….where there are a lot of shops where you don’t necessarily have to negotiate each price…

Shoppers are all over the place at night also….and there is some of everything to purchase these evenings….

It was interesting to find out, though, that as much space there is for shopping above ground….there is just as much, maybe even more shopping underground….when you go into the tunnels (labeled for the subway) we find there is another world underneath the streets….it seems like it goes on forever….signs, stores, streets…all underground…People sure can be serious about shopping….and if you go…you had better be prepared 🙂

As mentioned previously, I have a huge number of photo’s but just posted these so that this trip could be followed.  Particularly understanding my own fortune in being able to gain these experiences, this is my way of sharing experiences that others may not have the opportunity to enjoy.  In each country, I showed some of the experiences.  Some were more in depth and some less.  If you have some specific questions, you can always send me a note….tomorrow morning I head back to the States….I’ll miss these experiences….but I also miss my dirt road 🙂

More observations to come 🙂

Seoul…is Back

November 1, 2011

Although I’ve only been abroad just over a week….it feels like its been a life time….because in large part…in just this short amount of time, I’ve had a life time of experiences….I am, indeed, taking it all in…reflecting now….and to reflect up further later on….

Back at the airport to leave Bali, I’m just laying back and reading a book.  Up comes our flight crew.  Normally, I wouldn’t mention it as it probably would not register.  In this case, most of my flights have been on Korea Airlines….and let me say it is better than the commercial.  Very thorough, very polite…and definitely about the business.  Soooo….they are having a team meeting before the flight….and you can tell they take everything they do very seriously….most impressive 🙂  Ironically, “Outliers” has a section on Korean Airlines.  I hate flying….the chapter talks about their turnaround into one of the excellent airlines, including safety…I am a bit more comfortable now….Thumbs-up for Korea Airlines 🙂

Landing at the Seoul/Incheon airport, I must admit….once you leave the airport for the drive into the city…it is easy to wonder…ehhhhh…..what’s up with this….dreary or smoggy….with all the wonderful things I had heard about Seoul, what I’ve seen thus far gave me pause….

Quite a bit open space, buildings off in the distance, all of them appear to be made out of the same materials….they all have the same color and the same architectural style….

All of a sudden you get to Seoul, and then your eyes open up…in a sort of “wow” kind of way….

I’ve seen my share of cities….and of course, since city planning is my field…I’ve studied more than my share of municipalities….but, Seoul provided quite the different experience….such beautiful buildings, both day and night, the city is extremely clean….

UNESCO, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization is very involved in this city and Seoul and received several awards and plenty of recognition for their uniquely advanced governance practices….most Impressive.  One this that stands out, is that everything is in its place….everything is in order.  When standing on a corner, you very rarely hear a horn.  In a city with over 10 million people in it, that is a complete anomaly….it is rare to hear someone talking loud on a cell phone, or even in conversation amongst each other….the volume is only high enough for the person participating in the conversation to hear….in fact…even during rush hour….the only sound you hear is the sound of the bus engines driving by….another main point….is that it can be in the late hours of the night….60 people may be standing at a cross walk waiting for the green light to come on that lets you know it is proper to cross the road.  Even when no cars are coming….imagine…every single person standing there waiting for the light to indicate it is proper to walk….imagine that…that is so prevalent…that once I stepped out into the street….yes…like an American Guygen :)….and no one else moved….it felt so strange that I easily slid myself back up into the crowd…and waited like everyone else…powerful feeling that was….and amazing city 🙂

My home for the week – the Koreana Hotel…very nice….learned some Korean in that place 🙂

Koreans are highly involved in governance.  In fact, every night I was there…I witnessed a protest…a political rally….informational sessions on certain issues with North Korea….every night you could hear the bull horn sounding off 🙂

The first day I walked the downtown area, I came across several groups protesting the free-trade agreement between the United States and South Korea….they were also in the process of electing a new mayor….you could hear music and bull horn every night…although My Korean is a bit rusty…ok…non-existent…you could feel the energy…made you want to join in…. 🙂

Right in the middle of the city, there is a striking display on a historical component of Korean history.  The first statue is of Admiral Yi, in the foreground, a golden image of King Seonjo is the background…both sitting in front of one of the royal palaces – Gwanghwamun.

Took a stroll down to the Imperial Palace –

Had a “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” “Curse of the Golden Flower” “Hero” and “Red Cliff” kind of moment 🙂  The meticulous nature of the design and the colors were absolutely brilliant….

Absolutely Beautiful….

The royal reading error for the Emperor….

areas for members of the royal family and their staff….

Beautiful to see the seasons change….water is full of fish…nice….

Pots storing the royal rice…and other palatial goodies 🙂

Deoksugung, another palace, where we witnessed the changing of the guards…

Not uncommon to see a monk walking the street….I enjoyed that….really made the environment even more eclectic….

Yes, I am in Seoul….Yes, on the other side of the world…just proves that everybody has at least one of them…. 🙂