Friday, January 24, 2020

Prelude Part 2

The following is an excerpt from the rough draft of Gyeosunim, my next novel. Enjoy.

The hotel was surrounded by office buildings, tucked on a narrow side street. Having studied Google Maps, I walked straight from Seoul Station, past Sungnyemun Plaza, where the old city gate near Namdaemun Market still stood tall. It had been reconstructed after an arsonist torched it in 2008 but it looked the same as I remembered it. A gate that no longer kept people out, but welcomed them. Another street to cross and one more block, and I could see my hotel. ENA Suites. Only 15 minutes from Seoul Yuk.

My first order of business was a data card for my phone. While I had WiFi in my hotel room, I found that the speed of the free WiFi on the train from Incheon to Seoul was laughable. While I could establish a connection, it took forever to download any page I searched, and I couldn’t refresh my Facebook or Twitter, couldn’t check in with family to let them know that I had arrived.

Back in my hotel room, with a now-usable phone, I called Brad’s cell number and reached his voice mail. I looked at my watch: it was almost 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. Brad was likely still at work, likely the same for Wilma. I left a message with my phone’s new number and decided to nap until he called.

My body was still on GMT, eight hours behind. I managed to get some sleep between Frankfurt and Beijing, thanks to the bed on the Emirates flight. But if I was going to get ahold of my jet lag, I knew that I had to keep close to the hours of where I was now and not go to bed until about 11 or so, my normal bedtime.

Still, a short nap wasn’t going to hurt.

My phone chirped before I could lay down on the king-sized bed. It was a notification of a Facebook messenger video call. “You’re up early,” I said, as the familiar face came onto the screen.

“I’m already at the office,” said Siobhan, “and have been up with the sun. Early bird and all that. How was your flight?”

My sister, always looking out for me, probably tracked my flight through an app on her phone. She knew I was due to land in Korea by 1:45 and gave me a few hours to make my way to the hotel. The sun would have risen in Edinburgh shortly after 5, so she had been awake for nearly three hours.

“Can’t complain, though I hate Frankfurt Airport. My layover was almost an hour and a half, and it took nearly that long to get through two sets of security and make it to my next gate. I should have transferred in Paris. Surprisingly, Beijing was easier.”

“How’s your hotel?”

“Wonderful, so far. The room is spacious and clean. The staff at the desk speak perfect English. I’m up on the fifteenth floor but my room looks out to office buildings within the block I’m situated. If they weren’t there, I’d have a perfect view of Seoul’s old gate.”

“Have you contacted your friends?”
“I’ve left a message. I think they’re still working for another hour or so. I was about to have a nap while I wait to hear from Brad. How are things there?”

“Just peachy. I’ll let Mum know you’ve arrived safe and sound. She’s coming over for dinner, this evening.”

“Lovely.” I had seen my mother, now in her early 80s, just yesterday morning. I visited her in her seniors’ apartment, in Barnton, west of Edinburgh. It’s only a 15-minute drive from Siobhan, on the way to the airport. I had stayed with Siobhan and Ian, her husband, in their New Town home that evening. Breakfast with Mum, and then a taxi to the airport. “Give her a kiss for me.”

“Have you contacted The Missus?” Siobhan loved calling her that, rather than by her name, even though we were not married. We moved in together, to my North Berwick home, more than 10 years ago. Had been dating since 2002, off and on, from afar, while I still lived in Ottawa, Canada. When I sold that home, in 2005, and moved back to my birth home, we became more serious. In 2008, we consolidated our residence.

“Unlike you, she’s not up with the sun. I’ve decided to call her before I turn in for the night.”

“She might be out at that hour. It’ll be the middle of the afternoon for her.”

“Since you reached me on my phone from your office, you should know that this is the Internet Age, sis. I’ll reach her whether she’s out or not.”

“True. What did we do before smartphones?”

“I seem to remember you phoning me for the first time when I lived here. It was bloody three in the morning.”

“I remember you telling me the time in the same words,” Siobhan laughed. “How’s the weather in Seoul?”

“Beautiful. It’s 25 celsius and sunny. The forecast says that there’s no rain for about a week.”

“It’s 12 and wet here.”

“Sucks to be you.” My phone began to ring. At the top of the screen, above Siobhan’s head, Brad’s name and number appeared. “Got to go, sis. Love to all.”

Cold and wet. Typical May weather in Edinburgh. It could be worse. I remember standing atop Berwick Law on a winter’s morning, just before I made my second trip to Korea. How one can feel about the weather is all a matter of perspective.

I cut the video call to Siobhan and tapped my friend’s name. “Buh-ra-duh,” I said in a heavily accented Korean voice.

“Lolan-duh,” came a similar reply. “Welcome to Seoul!”

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Longing to Travel

If the other night was any indication, 2020 is going to be a long, sleepless year.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to get away twice. In late March, DW and I flew to Mexico to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. When we look back on that vacation, we look each other in the eyes and let out a longing sigh. It was probably the best vacation that she and I have taken together in ages.

Every couple of weeks, we find ourselves looking at the video we shot of that trip to the Mayan Riviera.

Less than six weeks later, I took a solo trip back to South Korea, where I relived some of the days when DW and I lived there, from 1997 to 1999. When I first returned to this East Asian country, I told myself that it would be my last time visiting this far-off land. Since then—especially when I watch the 70-minute video that I made—I've been telling myself that I could easily go back in a couple of years.

When DW and I were planning our Mayan getaway, and when I was planning my Korean vacation, I lost countless nights of sleep, lying in bed, thinking of our itineraries, working out where we were going to go and what we would do when we got there.

I also thought that for both trips, I would make video recordings that would tell the story of our adventures, and I'd lay awake, making a mental storyboard of what I'd shoot, and how I would string everything together into a story that not only she and I would enjoy watching over and over, but would be something to share with those who might also enjoy watching our trips.

I went almost a week, with maybe two hours of sleep each night, before I'd become useless during the day. So you can imagine how I felt, just the other night, lying in bed, thinking of our next trip.

You see, this weekend, DW and I purchased our airfare for our next trip.

We're going to Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Twenty-two days in Europe. For about eight or nine days of our trip, we plan to buy some touring bikes and cycle from Amsterdam to Bruge, and along the Mosel River, from Trier to Koblenz. We want to return to Berlin—I was last there in 1988; DW went with a friend in 1989, shortly after she and I started dating. We want to see Bonn, Cologne, Munich, Dresden, Rothenburg, Brussels, Antwerp, Haarlem.

So much planning. So many places over a three-week span.

And so, I'm now starting to think of how I'll capture our trip, on video, to tell another story. This time, the challenge will be to make the video brief. And, in the planning, I'm already staying awake til the wee hours, imagining how I'll shoot this video. Already, making a mental storyboard.

The other night, I was up until nearly 3:00, only to wake up at 5:30.

So, why is 2020 going to be a long, sleepless year? Because, we don't leave for Europe until mid-September.

Stay tuned...

Friday, January 17, 2020

Photo Friday: Gels and Grunge

Any time I've purchased a flash, it's come with coloured pieces of plastic that clip over the head of the flash. In all the years that I've owned these flashes, I've never once used them.

These pieces of plastic are known in photography as gels, and they are used to apply that colour to the overall look of the photo. If you attach a red gel to your flash, your subject will appear red.

I've seen countless photos in which gels have been used, and if they are used correctly, they can create some wonderful, artsy imagery. I've wanted to try this type of photography but have never given it enough thought to come up with something on my own.

Earlier this week (just before I got nailed with a bug that kept me down for a couple of days), I had an opportunity to join my Ottawa Photography Meetup group for a model shoot with gels.

It was an interesting meetup and I learned some new techniques. We photographed our model, Roxanne, in front of a white backdrop, upon which we shone a yellow gel and a blue gel, which gave the background that colour. On Roxanne, herself, we shone red, blue, and orange gels, to create incredible effects.

We also used a black backdrop and focused the different colours on our model, for a dramatic lighting effect.

In post production, I ran a few of my photos through Snapseed, applying a 'grunge' filter effect (and perhaps overdoing it a bit on the third shot). These are the photos I've decided to share for Photo Friday.

You can see more of my photos on 500px, but keep in mind that these photos are not safe for viewing at work. Some of the safer photos can be found on my Instagram page.

I might just dig out those coloured plastic covers for my flashes and try more of these on my own. Stay tuned.

Happy Friday!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Beer O'Clock: Partaking a Pale

Today is Day 13 of Dry January and so far, so good.

Mind you, I did slip on Saturday in my vow to also avoid sugar, having developed an insatiable craving for leftover Christmas cookies and one piece of homemade fudge that my sister bestowed onto the Brownfoots.

We received more fudge, this past Christmas, than my entire family eats at any other time in the past decade. But I digress...

A couple of days after Dry January started, I thought to myself, would I have to wait until February before performing and presenting another Beer O'Clock review? A couple of years or so ago, I had reviewed a non-alcoholic beer that I didn't know was alcohol-free until after I brought it home and drank it.

I asked my Twitter friends if it would be considered cheating if I drank a non-alcoholic beer during Dry January and received a resounding no. In fact, one of my virtual friends even recommended a choice that was available at the LCBO.

And so, here we are.

Partake Brewing founder, Ted Fleming, gave up alcohol a few years ago due to a medical ailment, but wasn't prepared to say goodbye to his love of beer, and decided to start his own brewery that is dedicated to creating good alcohol-free suds. His brewery produces a pale ale, IPA, blonde, and stout.

For my Dry January beer review, I take a look at his pale ale, simply called Pale.

As with my last Beer O'Clock review, I made a YouTube video. But because a 90-second review is far too short and difficult in getting all the information covered, and because I wanted to have a bit of fun making this review, I added almost an extra minute, making this one just shy of two-and-a-half minutes.

This also marks the last time that Beer O'Clock will appear in The Brown Knowser. As I mentioned last week, I have created a Brown Knowser YouTube channel, and this is the new home of my beer reviews. If you like them, please subscribe (that way, I know people are actually watching). Other videos that are not related to beer will also appear here.

I'll try to create at least one video each month.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Something Different

Last night, I deleted one of my other blogs.

Wait, you might think: you have other blogs?

I do.

Some of you might remember my old Beer O'Clock blog, where I posted my beer reviews. That blog ended in 2017, when I moved my reviews back to The Brown Knowser. Soon, I'll move my reviews over to my Brown Knowser YouTube channel, but that's another day.

I haven't removed my old beer blog. You can still read the old reviews.

But I have other blogs. If you're a long-time reader of The Brown Knowser, you may have forgotten that I had created blogs for my fiction: one, for my first novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, and another for the rough drafts of the sequel, Gyeosunim.

If you've now noticed that the title to the sequel is missing a hyperlink, that's because I've removed this blog.

When I wrote Songsaengnim, I posted chapters on the blog as I finished writing them. A month after I finished the manuscript and sent it to my publishing company, I removed all but the first chapter.

Very little of that blog has changed since then.

I was planning to do the same with Gyeosunim, but I was writing sporadically, and several months... years... went by before I continued writing. I had gone in so many directions and had lost some of my writing that I felt a blog was not going to work, this time, so I stopped posting to it.

I'm now almost finished the full manuscript (more than a year late), but while I put the final touches, maybe go into a different direction (again!), or start from scratch, I thought I would start sharing some of the segments that I'm particularly pleased with and perhaps some that I question as worthy.

Ready to read some fiction? Here's a small exert from what is currently the prelude to the novel:

Monday, February 2, 1998

A storm was coming.
It was still out to sea, approaching from the southeast. From high above, the definition of where the density of the cloud that held the precipitation and the sea was muddied by what was, no doubt, rain that would soak if not for the near freezing air that would change the raindrops to ice. From this distance, it was hard to see which form of precipitation was heading this way.
Either way, it was best that I get inside.
Because the sky was already heavily overcast, it was becoming too dark to remain atop the Law. And although I had climbed this hill countless times in all sorts of conditions, making the descent in darkness was never desired, especially in foul weather. Though the storm was still dozens of kilometres away, the first of the stray, cold drops were being carried by the chilling, brisk winds.
I took one last look at the town, below. Though it was only mid to late afternoon, this time of year offered few hours of daylight. Under cloud cover, light was even shorter. I could see street lamps already coming to life, and many homes and shops revealed illumination from within. The rustle of wind in my cold ears whispered that within those structures, there was warmth.
I pulled the collar of my jacket up to cover my neck, turned toward the path, and convinced myself that where there was warmth, a pint was also awaiting me. The path led me down the south side of Berwick Law, away from North Berwick. It was only a 20-minute descent, in good weather, and another five minutes or so to shelter.
A storm was coming. Best that I get down now.

Friday, May 10, 2019
Namsan Tower was still there, drawing my eyes to it like proverbial moths to a flame. It would only be when I could find it, not atop Seoul’s tallest mountain, but prominent in the centre of Seoul’s northern half, that I would know that I had arrived. Despite the slim, towering skyscrapers that tried to hide it, the icon of South Korea’s capital city still stood out.
I didn’t have the fear of my first arrival, more than 22 years earlier. Though I knew that this city—this country—had changed dramatically over my 20-year absence, I felt I still knew it. The Internet and Google Maps had helped a lot.
Seoul Yuk, the central train station, was now a massive sprawl of steel and glass. White marble, escalators, and myriad shops. I had stepped off a train and arrived at a shopping mall. Where was the old station, with its red brick and Byzantine-like dome, that had survived both Japanese occupation and the Korean War?
I followed the crowds and signs that led toward the building’s exits. With my smartphone in hand, I opened a compass app and gained my bearings. I wanted to head north. Having had the wherewithal to study Google Maps, with its satellite and street views, I knew that the street I wanted to be on would be along the east side of the station, and so I kept to the right-hand side of the mall.
The bustle was the same. The crowd hadn’t diminished, though I did notice that there were more foreigners than I would have spotted two decades ago. And not just white people like me. Dark-coloured skin, Middle Eastern and African. I saw some women wearing hijab, something I had never seen before in all of my travels in South Korea.
Good for you, Seoul: you’ve grown into a true metropolitan centre.
Even my arrival had changed from 1997 and again, in 1998. Kimp’o was no longer the international airport. Incheon, which, back then, was little more than swampy land with a few bedroom communities, was now a modern city with an ultra-modern airport. For more than 20 years, the government had reclaimed and created land to make Incheon a giant, twenty-first-century city.
I was going to book my flight to Kimp’o, but after complaining to my old friend, Brad, that the trip would take me almost 30 hours, he set me straight.
“You did enter ICN as the destination airport, right?” his deep, New Jersey accent as strong as ever, over the phone. I met Brad MacMillan nearly two weeks after first arriving in Chonju, in 1997, and we had been close friends ever since. During the financial crisis, when Korean businesses were closing left, right, and centre, Brad’s hagwon, or learning institute, had suffered the same fate as mine would just a few weeks later. He and his girlfriend, Wilma Martin, left for Australia—Wilma’s home—where they landed jobs at a firm in Sydney, teaching English to Koreans and other East Asian business people.
In 2015, his company expanded to Seoul, where Brad and Wilma once again returned, teaching English to Korean business people.
“No,” I admitted, “I typed GMP. Why?”
“My dear Roland,” said Brad, “Kimp’o is now a domestic-flights airport. You want to fly to Incheon International Airport. Have you already booked?”
“Yes, but I can change my tickets. I’m using points so I think there’s only a $100 penalty.”
“Let me know when you’ve changed up and when you’re due to arrive. I’m looking forward to seeing you.”
“Same here,” I said. I had last seen Brad and Wilma, married since 2004, in Provence, France, in 2014. We managed to get together every few years, in Italy, in Edinburgh, in Sydney, and Canada, even though not a month would go by where we wouldn’t reach out through e-mail, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. Through these channels, the world became a lot smaller.
Brad was right, of course. I could book a flight from Edinburgh to Incheon, with brief stops in Frankfurt and Beijing, all within 17 hours. And, as a bonus, the flight used fewer points and cost less in fuel and taxes. Even with my penalty, I came out ahead on all fronts.
Brad had provided even more tips: “Wait to get your cash when you arrive. The kiosks at the airport have fairly decent rates. And go to a convenience store at the airport and buy a T-card. You can use it for the train to Seoul, on the subways, buses, and taxis. Some convenience stores also let you use it for purchases. You pay cash to top up the card.”
I found an ATM as I searched for a foreign-exchange kiosk, and used my debit card to withdraw cash. I found a convenience store and put 30,000 won on the T-card. More than I would need, I was sure, but Brad had also told me that I could cash in the card at a convenience store before I flew home.
Exiting Seoul Yuk, I saw more steel and glass. Towers everywhere I looked. But between them, the familiar sight of Namsan Tower.
“I’m back,” I said out loud, tipping my hat at the only thing I recognized.