Monday, November 24, 2008

Korea, part 4

Oh, yea verily, an aeon it ago 'twas when I set forth to document the course of my voyages. Oh foolish, foolish me! Such hubris, such unalloyed arrogance! to think that such a weighty endeavor could be writ in timely fashion. Muse! Forgive me my insolence, I beseech thee!

Humble reader, judge me not by my tardiness, think me not blind to your presence. For, if not for you, what am I? A pale shadow of nothing, a meaningless echo in the aether: without purpose, empty, and alone.

Recollect, I implore, the fragile tendril of a story with which I last left you: of Llama, my faithful companion, and I, as we set forth, bold and foolish, into a --

Alright, I'm not going to be able to keep that up for any longer... Let's see if I can do a narrative through pictures, instead.

Llama and I went down to Gyonju, which is this pretty spiffy town at the south-east end of the country (due to the awesomeness of high-speed rail (please, please work, Prop 1A!), it took us only four hours to cross the country).

Here, the quaintly urban scene surrounding Seoul Station.

And we'll pretend that this picture was intended as an artsy self-portrait, rather than evidence of my unawareness of the existence of flashes.

Wandering around Gyonju the following day, we encountered a number of mammarially-inclined burial mounds, a representative of which is displayed below.

The real treat of Gyeonju, however, is Namsan Park, a large, undeveloped swathe of land south of the city utterly littered with historic Buddhist relics. It was almost embarrassing wandering around -- one incautious step and you would probably end up shattering a thousand-year old prayer mound. Although noone would likely have noticed.

(Zoom in on this next one)

Of course, our trail was occasionally arduous, requiring sacrifices and feats of almost inhuman bravery. Witness this breathtaking precipice!

Marvel at SonicLlama's daring feats of rope acrobatics!

Of course, such a trial demanded celebration on both our behalves.

At long last, we reached the top of the trail ("a veritable Shangri-La," in Llama's words), a small monestary nestled at the end of a multiple-mile long hike up a challenging hillside trail. Complete with coffee-vending machine.

And large Buddha, around which we stood awkwardly while non-tourists conducted actual, sincere, non-ironic prayers.

Sadly, in punishment for our disrespect, SonicLlama was infected and turned into a werewolf.

And proceeded to shrink my head.

Thankfully, I was soon rescued by my new Vampire friends, who drove Llama off, howling in to the distance.

And helped me get back to the train station, where I hopped on and took the bullet train direct to Los Angeles.

And that's how it really happened, children. Now fetch grampa his Valium!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Righteous anger!

Wow, that's a lot of cop cars. I must be getting close. I pull over to the side of the road to let a convoy of 20 or 30 police cars, sirens blaring and full of cops, pass by me on Wilshire Boulevard. It's 5:30, the height of rush hour. Traffic is normally slow. But now it's completely stopped.

Fortunately, I know what's going on, and I'm on my bike. After a few minutes delay, I hop on my bike and resume racing down Wilshire, passing mile upon mile of stopped cars. It's exhilerating.

At this point, I still harbor vague illusions that I'll be able to make it back in time for class -- I've got an hour, after all. That's plenty of time.

Normally, my Thursday evenings are spent going to my billiards class and generally goofing off. It's a good way to spend an evening and let some stress off. And, as this week had been particularly stressful for me, I was more than a little excited to take my brain off of classwork and paper-writing to spend an evening hitting balls with sticks. But, alas, as I sat there idly writing code for a class project, my cell phone buzzed. It was a text from my friend J.

J: "Huge no on 8 protest on wilshire just past westwood. Bring a bike and your sense of justice!"

Me: "What're people doing?"

J: "Closed off the streets! We're marching west! It's huge, cops, news. We're stalled right now but people are trying to push through"

(Perhaps you have not heard of Proposition 8 -- although evidence suggests that's unlikely. It's an amendment to California's constitution defining marriage as being valid between a man and a woman. The measure was proposed to counteract the supreme court's egregious finding that discriminating based on sexual orientation was, you know, maybe not so cool. It passed, sadly, 52-48%.)

I'm not sure if I was motivated more by my anger at injustice or my desire to flake out on classwork. It didn't much matter. I hopped on my bike, muttered a quick goodbye to my officemate, and peddled furiously south of campus.

And now, here I am, on one of the most major streets in LA, and it's completely shut down.


Luckily, I have no trouble getting ahold of J -- he's at the tail end of the march when I meet up with him, and I hop off my bike and start walking. We're in a crowd of thousands, marching and chanting. Sometimes in unison.

"Where are we marching to?" I ask. "The Mormon temple." I know the temple. I used to live right across the street from it. It's huge. Mormon donors (many from out of state) contributed a significant fraction of the Yes On 8 campaign's funding. And the crowd is marching to their temple to vent. I'm ambivalent about this -- it's frustrating to feel like someone else's religious beliefs are being foisted on you, but I worry that targeting particular groups like this will only serve to foster divisions.

But I don't dwell on this too much. I'm too caught up in the swell of people, chanting "Gay, straight, black, white: marriage is a civil right!" at the top of my lungs, driving myself hoarse. I talk to a man who looks like a young, gay Jesus, whose husband was one of the lawyers that helped overturn Colorado's anti-sodomy laws. He seems nice.

We make it to the temple. The crowd stops. Puts signs up on the fences. Helicopters, ten of them, perhaps, are circling overhead, passing cars are honking at us, in (I choose to believe) support. The police are being remarkably decent: they're clearly not too thrilled with us, but they are extraordinarily efficient about clearing the roads, blocking off side streets, and keeping things safe.

A couple has an impromptu Jewish wedding in front of the temple. Not legal, of course -- I don't even know if they're really a couple -- but it's cute. Everybody cheers.

But then we're restless. The crowd's enthusiasm is waning, and people don't feel like milling around anymore. "March! March! March!" We have huge swaths of the city yet to explore, and we want to move!

We set turn around and set off north. And we keep going. We march through West Hollywood and into Beverly Hills. My feet are killing me, but I'm exhilarated. I yell, I start chants, I smile at befuddled club-goers on the sidewalks. I don't know if I'm here more to support the cause or for the pure pleasure of walking down the middle of major streets and basking in the attention. I don't care. I keep marching.

I can't really bring myself to believe this is going to accomplish anything. The measure was a constitutional amendment. Short of a federal-level constitutional challenge (unlikely) or another ballot measure to overturn it (very likely, but it'll be a few years), I don't see what can be done. Maybe this will raise attention to our frustrations. It's been getting press -- apparently our rally made it to CNN for a short while. I hope that we make the issue a little more tangible, a little more real to some of the people we pass on the sidewalks.

But I don't think about that now. I'm caught up in the emotion and the noise. I keep marching.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election 2008

Alright! Time to prepare for four years of disillusionment!

Monday, November 3, 2008


I promised one more post about Korea, I know. I'll get there, as soon as I'm done with these fellowship applications and midterms and final projects and... and... Yeah, whine, whine, everyone's got a lot of work to do, I'm not special, I know.

But before I get there, you should know that thinks I'm a woman. I had no idea.