Friday, May 31, 2019

The Last Post?

It's time.

Tomorrow marks the eighth anniversary of The Brown Knowser. One thousand, eight hundred, and seventy published posts. More than 376,000 views (almost 4,000 views, on average, each month: this month, I was stunned to learn that my blog topped 10,000 views for the first time in almost two years). 

I am eternally grateful for all of my readers and followers. But now, I have to stop.

At least, for a time.

A week ago, I visited my doctor because I found that my short-term memory was failing me, among other things. I'm constantly exhausted, both mentally and physically, and my anxiety levels are through the roof.

I already know that I suffer from depression. It's not something I talk about, not even with family and close friends, but some days I find myself paralyzed, unable to get myself out of bed or off the sofa. It doesn't last long, no more than a day or two, but these days I've been fighting it to the point that my mind becomes scattered and I have to struggle to keep moving.

My doctor talked about all of my activities and my sleep pattern. I talked about my blog; I talked about my novel; I talked about my photography; I talked about my family; I talked about work. I told her that I strive to get to bed before midnight but usually fail. My alarm rings, most weekday mornings, at 5.

I told her that over the past couple of months, I've grown stressed at work, that I'm not happy with my job and how I dread being in the office.

We talked about my feet and how I've dealt with the pain. I told her that things were rough in the years that led up to my surgery, that I had "picked my bridge" in the event that my foot couldn't be fixed, that the pain would continue.

Thankfully, with the exception of a strain on my left ankle that came from overworking my foot in South Korea, my pain has diminished, that the surgery was a success, that the injections in my right foot for my osteoarthritis keep the pain at bay.

I have my bridge, but I don't need it at present.

My doctor has referred me to a psychiatrist, and I await my first appointment. In the meantime, my doctor has instructed me to get more sleep, and has given me literature on techniques I can use to sleep better.

My doctor has also told me that I have too much on my plate. Particularly with my writing, which occupies so much of my time. "Something has to go," she said. "Keep two things that give you the most joy and eliminate the other." She was referring to my blog, my novel, and my photography.

I'm committed to finishing my novel by the end of the summer. My whole reason for going to Korea was to jump start my writing, and it succeeded. I wasn't about to put that back on the shelf.

Whether I'm with my D-SLR, my compact cameras, or my smartphone, not a day goes by that a camera isn't within short reach. I can't look at anything without considering how it would look in my viewfinder or screen. Photography gives me almost more joy than writing, and so I can't put my cameras down.

That leaves The Brown Knowser.

Even though my blog has given me so much joy, it also produces a lot of stress. I worry about not having any material to use for a post. I worry that the quality of my writing isn't worthy of my readers. I worry that my rants will offend people.

I love my blog but it's a large part of my anxiety.

So, on the eve of my eighth anniversary, I'm going to step away. Maybe not forever, but for the foreseeable future.

At least, until my physical and mental health improve.

So, what happens to Beer O'Clock? What happens to my photos?

When I was travelling in Korea, I shared a lot of thoughts through Twitter. I think I'll use that social media tool as my main outlet. I also posted photos through Instagram, which were shared out through Twitter and Facebook. I liked posting images and ideas through that format.

Beer O'Clock, when I do review beer, will start through Instagram, with photos of the beer or brewery, and will continue as a thread on Twitter. If you like my beer reviews, consider following me.

As I work on my novel, I will share rough drafts of my chapters on my Gyeosunim blog. When the manuscript is ready for my publisher, that blog will stop but the first chapter will be available. Same as what I did with Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.

So, this is it. It's time. After eight years, I'm stepping away from The Brown Knowser. I won't say goodbye: instead, I'll just see ya around sometime.

Oh, and here's one last photo...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Cheonggyecheon Canal Video

It was my first evening in South Korea, and I had been re-energized by a 90-minute nap after having travelled for about 18 hours. I had time travelled 13 hours into the future (by Ottawa standards), and I didn't want to waste any more time.

One of my non-negotiable night walks in Seoul was the Cheonggyecheon Canal, a stream that runs for nearly 11 kilometres from west to east in the heart of the city. This stream had been covered over after the Korean War, during the city's restructuring. It was uncovered and built into a water park that runs below the streets in 2005.

Today, it's a massive draw for tourists like me and the city's residents. On a Saturday night, the waterway was packed with families with their young children, couples on a date, and friends out on the town. Folks were strolling, sitting by the stream, or taking selfies in front of the illuminated pieces of art that hovered above the water.

I had seen images on Google Maps' street view, but the still images don't capture the atmosphere of being there.

I took many stills, myself, hoping to capture some candid images of people relaxing, but I also brought my 360-degree video camera with me, and I put it to use. As soon as I had walked about half a kilometre eastward from the canal's starting point, I turned on my video camera and walked back.

The walk took about five minutes or so but the video has been sped up in spots, and runs for less than two minutes.

Unfortunately, with my jet lag, I forgot to set the camera to night mode, so that the camera runs faster in low light. As a result, there is some pixelation in spots, but it does give a good feel for the canal and the night life.

Here's the video:

Note: this video was shot in one take and edited on my smartphone. I love portable technology.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Room With No View

On my last evening in Korea, I had returned to Seoul, from where I would head back to the Incheon International Airport and eventually, home. I had done all I wanted to do in Chŏnju, had all the information that I wanted to gather, and was ready to say goodbye to the country that had been my home from 1997 to 1999.

Actually, that's not quite true: I didn't do everything that I wanted to do in Chŏnju. I didn't climb Namgosan, the hill on the south end of the city, just a short hike from the neighbourhood in which I was staying. On that hill there were the remains of a fortress wall, a temple—Namgosansa—and a commanding view of Chŏnju.

The view in 1997.
In my first year, on summer afternoons when I had several hours to kill between classes, I would climb this hill and walk past the temple, along some of the remaining stones from the wall, find a cluster of trees that would offer shade from the burning sun, and relax as I watched the city move below me. I sometimes even brought some food and a bottle of soju or beer, and have a picnic.

I didn't climb Namgosan. I had injured my foot, seen it swell to a ginormous size, and didn't want to walk any further than about 10 or 15 minutes at a time. It's a shame, really: I have a photo that I shot in 1997 and would have loved to capture an image to see how the cityscape had changed over the past two decades.

No matter: I had the view I shot from Jeonju University and a night view of the Hanok Village from Omokdae Park, which shows the sprawl in the near distance, looking northwest, past city hall and toward the downtown core.

I didn't go to Tokchin Park, near Chŏnbuk National University, but I had been there before and recent photos on Google Maps showed that it hadn't changed much, except for the plaza where intercity buses made short stops. But I could see part of the plaza, from a bus stop, and I can always visit it on Google's street view.

I didn't visit the neighbourhood where I lived when I worked at the hagwon (private institute) in 1997, but again, I can see just as much from Google street view. The same with the apartment that I lived in in 1998, when I worked at Jeonju U. I caught a quick glimpse of it from a city bus, as I headed to the university, and I thought that was enough. I didn't need to get up close.

So, I left Chŏnju, not with all my boxes checked but feeling satisfied that I had accomplished my mission.

When I returned to Seoul, I wanted to be a tourist, wanted to visit sites that I had planned to visit when I lived in South Korea but never had the chance. And while I have never been a shopper, I wanted to go through some of the shopping districts and poke around.

Two nights before I returned to Seoul, I had no booked accommodation. A friend of mine had told me about love hotels, which can be rented for a night or for a few hours, depending on your motives. If your motive was sleep, it was an inexpensive, clean room. If you were looking for hanky panky, away from prying eyes, it was an inexpensive, clean room.

Before going to Korea, I checked one out on YouTube.

While I trust my friend's judgement on travel, I opted to not follow this recommendation because I didn't want to worry about searching for the right hotel at the right price, in the right neighbourhood. I wanted to be in a neighbourhood that I knew well, that had easy access to transportation to the airport. And so, I searched online and found a room for only $89CAD just a short walk from the hotel I stayed in, a few days prior, when I first arrived in Korea.

For that little amount, there was a catch: the room had no windows.

New Kukje Hotel.
I didn't really care because I was only staying for one night and I was only going to use the room for sleep. And, most importantly, the hotel had plenty of positive reviews, mostly about the cleanliness of the rooms and the friendliness of the staff.

The room was, indeed, clean and the staff were very helpful—and they were fluent in English (even the elevator spoke exclusively in English, as it announced floors).

As soon as I settled into my room, it was time to head out and play tourist. There was a temple that I had wanted to visit so long ago but never found the time, and so I headed out to Bongeunsa. This temple, dating back to 794, is located on the south shore of the Han River, and just east of the neighbourhood where the Express Bus Terminal is located. (The bus terminal is the only reason I had previously ever found myself on that side of the Han.)

The temple was devastated by a fire in 1939 and was all but completely destroyed during the Korean War, but the rebuilt structures and giant standing Buddha of today are no less impressive.

Bongeunsa is located in the heart of the Gangnam district which was made famous by the 2012 hit by Korean artist, Psy. A statue in his honor is located a block away from the temple.

After I visited the temple, I returned to my hotel neighbourhood, near city hall, where I ate dinner, picked up some grapefruit-flavoured soju, some potato chips, and unwinded to a Korean version of a reality talent show.

I discovered, though, that even though my room had no view, the hotel had a rooftop restaurant with a terrace that had a spectacular view. So my hotel was well worth the visit.

My trip to South Korea was short but well worth the jet lag and injured ankle. As I return to more work on my novel, Gyeosunim, I have lots of renewed memories as well as fresh ones.

Who knows? Maybe I'll return in another 20 years?

Monday, May 27, 2019


When I lived in Chŏnju, South Korea, from 1997 to 1999, one of the things that DW and I loved to do was get away from the city on the weekends. We would travel, by bus, or sometimes in a vehicle with our Korean friends, to the various temples, mountains, and other sites throughout the small country.

One of our favourite places to visit, if we didn't want to stray too far, was to the far side of Moaksan (Moak Mountain), to the southwest of Chŏnju, to Korea's only three-tiered temples, Kumsansa (now spelled Geumsansa).

Built around 600 AD, the original structure was burned down following the 1592 Japanese invasion and rebuilt in 1632. This is the main temple that still exists to this day.

When DW and I would go to Kumsansa, we would either go by car (our hagwon, or language institute, had a car that was available to the teachers), by scooter (we each bought one in our second year), or by bus. It would take 20 minutes by car, a half an hour by scooter, or just under an hour by bus.

On my recent return to Chŏnju, I had to return to this temple. Being in the mountains, it was set in a beautiful, peaceful, and quiet surrounding. Even when we visited the site, one spring evening, for Buddha's birthday, there was a crowded calm about the grounds.

I caught the bus just around the corner from Pungnammun, Chŏnju's old south gate, which was close to my Airbnb. I was able to use the T-card that I bought in Seoul, which gave me passage on buses, subways, and even some taxis. The care worked on the buses in Chŏnju.

Making our way out of Chŏnju, the bus passed through neighbourhoods that didn't exist when I lived there, 20 years ago. But once we saw Moaksan, with its cluster of television and radio antennae (and no doubt, cell-phone towers), the windy road became familiar. I even recognized a restaurant that DW and I had visited, with some of her students, all those years ago. It was famous for it's smoked duck, and judging by the number of cars parked outside it, the restaurant had not lost its charm.

The bus let me off about 1,300 metres from the entrance to the temple. Years ago, I could have driven much closer. I remembered the lines of souvenir stalls and restaurants, but once I walked past them, where a narrow road once lay, the quality of the roadway was much improved and a landscaped walkway kept me in shaded comfort. It was an extremely pleasant walk, despite my injured ankle from too much walking throughout Seoul and Chŏnju.

The Airbnb in which I was staying is part of a group of lodgings, called Hanok Stay. As I neared the temple, I saw a similar logo and the words Temple Stay near a new group of traditional-style houses. Apparently, you can now rent lodging near Kumsansa.

The grounds of the temple were exactly how I remembered them. The paint on the main building was in serious need of touchup, but everything was how I expected it to be. There were still some lanterns hanging from the previous weekend's celebration of Buddha's birthday: when I had attended the celebration in 1998, the entire grounds were covered in these colourful decorations.

There's not much else to say about the site. I'm going to share the photos I shot and let you decide if this is a place you'd want to escape to, if you lived nearby.