Friday, November 29, 2019

Photo Friday: Black and White and Red All Over

As the end of 2019 draws near, I have been preparing my annual year-end blog post of my favourite photos that I've taken over the year, and this year has been pretty light.

While I carry my D-SLR almost everywhere I go, I haven't actually pulled it out of its bag as often as I have in previous years. And when I've used it, instead of taking the files off the camera and processing them as soon as I can, I've let them sit on the data card. And, by the time I get around to importing them onto my computer, I just stash them in a file and barely look at them.

That's going to have to change in 2020.

More times than not, even though my camera bag is slung over my shoulder, I've opted to use my smartphone to capture the images. Even though the quality of most images isn't as good as my Nikon D7200, it's a lot faster to use if I plan to share the images on social media.

While I've been using Snapseed for many years, I'm always on the lookout for other apps to give my photos a fresh look.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded an app by a company that DW looks to as the competition to her company. I've told her that because Corel doesn't offer PaintShop Pro as an app for the smartphone, her company isn't even in the competition.

The newest app that I've added to my arsenal of photo-editing tools is Adobe Photoshop Express (I know, it's not a new app, but it's new to me).

While I still like Snapseed for enhancing the sharpness, contrast, and saturation of a photo, I like some of the effects that Photoshop Express offers, such as the many filters; in particular, the Splash filters that let you show a particular colour only, rendering any other colour in black and white.

I've experimented with some photos of fireworks I shot over the summer, but last Friday, when I was in Toronto, I took some photos with these filters from Photoshop Express in mind.

They weren't perfect, especially since I was shooting hand-held in low light (Queen Street, at night). I chose to keep the colour red and exclude all others, and it wasn't until I rendered the image with this filter that I noticed that this colour was thrown around quite a bit. Traffic lights, brake lights, and signs in shop windows. Red was also reflected off street lights and cast a red glow on the buildings.

While I hoped that red would be limited to the passing TTC street car, I liked the overall effect. It's a cool urban night scene, in black, white, and red.

What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Beer O'Clock: 90-Second Review

Once again, I'm trying something new.

For those of you who have been following The Brown Knowser over the years, you've likely read my Beer O'Clock reviews here and on its own blog site. A few years ago, I attempted my first video beer review, and judging by the scant viewership, most of you found the 19 minutes a bit long to take.

I get you. I haven't watched that video since I first made it.

I've wanted to make more videos of reviews, but I didn't want to make them long. I wanted to keep the video under five minutes, but even that seemed long.

Yesterday, I wondered if I could keep a video review to 60 seconds, and so I wrote out a short script and timed myself. And sure, I can do it, if I simply want to speak and I don't intend to do anything with the beer.

And so I then challenged myself to a 90-second video review, and gave myself some time to open the can of beer, pour it, smell it, taste it, and give my overall impression. With a little bit of editing, I managed to create a video that's exactly 90 seconds.

It's rough, but with time I'm sure I'll get better.

For this new review format, I thought I would review Ottawa's newest brewery. I first sampled some of their suds before they had a shop, during this spring's beer fest in Orleans. And I have to say, I nearly forgot about them in the ensuing months, but a change in plans for a recent Brew Donkey tour brought this brewery back on my radar.

Open since this past August, Brew Revolution picks up a music theme, with brews like Make Me Wanna Stout, Kashmir, and Walkin' On Sunshine, this Stittsville brewery already has a vast selection to choose from.

Enough writing: here's my 90-second review. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Death Wish

DW and I were talking about death, the other week, as couples do (what... you don't?), and we were remarking at the fact that we haven't updated our wills since our kids were in diapers. Because DW is still working out her father's estate, wills are foremost on her mind.

Back in the late '60s, DW's parents had the forethought to purchase their own plots at a cemetery, on the outskirts of town, and they purchased extra room for their offspring and any partners, as well. As we laid her dad to rest, next to his wife of more than 60 years, I muttered to DW, "I don't want to be buried here."

It was not meant as a slight against her parents: I loved DW's folks, who had been nothing short of kind and loving towards me, as though I was one of their own. My desire to be placed in the ground in a coffin or urn just didn't have its appeal for me. I didn't need to have a marker, with my name printed on it, to be a constant reminder of where my remains had been stashed. And I didn't want to have a funeral home's hand in my pockets.

DW told me that we'd discuss this matter later, and when we did, I was just as adamant. "I don't want to be buried in that cemetery," I repeated.

"Well, I'm keeping some of your ashes and I'm having them mixed with mine, and at least a bit of you will be with me when my time comes and I'm placed next to my mom and dad."

For years, I've been wondering how I wanted my remains handled. (I know, I'm such a joyful person.) Seriously, in this time when we consider the environment and the sort of world that we want to leave for our children, I think it's time that we give serious thought to how we go out, responsibly.

At times, I've joked, "throw me in a bog and let nature take its course," or, "just put me in the green bin and roll me to the curb on collection day." But now, I'm wondering if that's not such a bad idea (the first one, not the green bin).

I really don't want to give a funeral home any money. I don't need a fancy coffin or an urn. I certainly don't want to be embalmed—one more cocktail for the road?

I don't want any visitations or services. DW understands that when my time comes, I want her to reserve space at whatever bar I would tend to frequent (or perhaps one of my favourite Ottawa breweries?), invite all of my close friends and family, and have a party.

Display some of my best works of photography.

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And what do we do about my body? Well, I've heard that there are some places where you can have a truly green resting place, though I expect you don't rest for very long. Some parcels of land have been allotted for burial grounds where you aren't placed in anything, save maybe a biodegradable sack. Here, you truly let nature take its course.

That's what I want.

DW can quietly bury me in a wooded area. If the kids want to be with her, I'd like that, too. No fuss: no muss. No head stone, no indication that I'm there at all.

The other week, when DW and I talked about our need to update our wills and about our final wishes, I reminded her that I strongly object to being placed in a cemetery.

"Some of your ashes are coming with me."

"I'm not being cremated. I want a green burial." We talked about the area in Prince Edward County: lovely countryside; good breweries and tasty wineries. "Please put me there," I requested.

"Okay, but I'm hacking off a finger. Part of you is coming with me."

"Fair enough," I said, adding, "if you're going to take a part of me, take my schlong. I like the thought of it being forever with you." We laughed, though DW also whispered "Jesus" under her breath.

"But wait," I reconsidered, "what if there really is an afterlife, in which all your desires are fulfilled. I just might still need that."

"You're likely going to Hell," DW said, "where, for torture, you'll be offered such carnal desires but would be without your 'schlong,' like a Ken doll. I might as well keep it." More laughter.

Problem solved.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Photo Friday: First Snow

It was nice to get outdoors during my lunch break, yesterday, to enjoy the fresh, crisp air on the day of the first snow. Though autumn is not done, winter isn't far away.

Happy Friday!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Moving Pictures

It's rough.

There are camera and editing issues. There are sound problems and my voice does not make for good listening.

It's also really, really long, much longer than I intended. The opening scene goes on too long, but in cutting down the song, I really wanted it to fit so that when it ended, a flight attendant can be heard.

The script for the voice-overs is over-read. The unscripted dialog is often nonsensical and contains errors.

But this video really is for me, to keep as a reminder of my solo trip back to Korea, last May.

If you're truly interested, here it is. But get yourself comfortable before you hit Play, because it's an hour and 10 minutes of your life that you're never getting back.

Criticism is welcome, but please be kind. I've never ever done anything like this before. This is the longest video that I've ever put together. I actually call it a movie.

I present to you Back 2 Korea. Enjoy (I hope).


Friday, October 18, 2019

What Drives Me to Write

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Of course, I knew him only as Mr. Lemke, but he had a first name: it was Gurt. When I first entered his English class, in grade 9 (way back in September, 1979), I had no idea that this tall, lean Dutchman would have such a strong influence on me as a writer. In fact, the first time that he and I interacted, we didn't hit it off at all.

The classroom on the second floor at J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School faced south, toward Viewmount Drive. The housing development that would surround the high school was still years away and I could see across the road to the field in which my father and I would have rode our dirt bikes many summers earlier.

Sitting in my desk, which was in the row that was against the windows, I would have had to crane my neck right around to see the intersection of Chesterton Drive and Viewmount, and there really was no reason to look in that direction. Except, on that one morning.

I heard the dull thump as metal hit metal and rubber was scraped. I knew immediately that two vehicles had collided, and I turned to see the damage. It was an OC Transpo bus and a large sedan (weren't they all large in the 70s?). It wasn't a serious accident and I could see that no one was hurt, so I returned my attention to the front of the classroom.

That's when I saw that Mr. Lemke was standing near my desk, patiently waiting for me to rejoin the lesson. Apparently, he had asked me a question, in the time that the back of my head was facing him.

"We can discuss your lack of attention after school, Mr. Brown," he told me.

I didn't think a detention was fair, given that external distractions had caused an involuntary reaction from me. I heard a collision and my reflexes made me look. At the very least, I wanted to know if everyone was safe. And I couldn't have been distracted for more than 10 seconds.

Mr. Lemke wouldn't hear my explanation. "See you after school."

I didn't show up.

The next morning, as I sat in my homeroom, waiting to hear the morning announcements, Mr. Lemke showed up and asked me to step outside. He was disappointed that I had skipped detention.

I explained that I felt my punishment didn't fit the offense, and once again, I tried to tell him what had happened to make me look away. In a calm voice (always a calm voice), he told me that I could explain myself at detention, which was to be at the end of school.

Again, I didn't show up.

And again, Mr. Lemke visited my homeroom class to remind me that we had an appointment. He asked me why I was being so defiant.

I stated that I wouldn't attend a detention because the sound of the collision caused me to see what was the matter. As soon as I discovered what had happened, I was ready to return my attention to him.

"If you had heard a sound from behind you, wouldn't you have looked?" I asked. I told him that I found his demands unjust and that he could continue to expect me to come in, but that I wouldn't. I said that if he wanted to take me to the principal's office, we could go right away, before the announcements. But I was standing firm on my belief that I had done nothing to warrant a detention.

That was the end of the conversation. Mr. Lemke said that he respected my conviction and that, going forward, he hoped to see this same kind of fire from me in his class.

I didn't always succeed, but I tried my best.

Mr. Lemke's passion for poetry and literature was infectious. When he read passages aloud, you felt the emotion of the writer. When he assigned class presentations, he encouraged the students to speak with the same passion. He would often prompt presenters to speak from the heart, rather than from what was written on the pages that would be held.

"Throw away your notes!" he would exclaim. In one presentation that I delivered, I prepared thoroughly but still used my cue cards as a crutch. "Ross, throw away your notes," said Mr. Lemke.

I literally tossed the cue cards over my shoulders and just talked to the class.

That was all his doing.

I had Mr. Lemke as my English teacher in grades 9, 11, and 13. And while it was the class that I looked forward to the most, I wasn't the most attentive student in grade 13, using the class time to work in the student lounge.

One evening, while hanging out at Carlingwood Mall with my friend, Stuart, who also was in my English class, we ran into Mr. Lemke, who said, "Mr. Brown, I seem to run into you everywhere but in class." He smiled, and then continued with his shopping.

I showed up at the next class.

There are only three teachers that come to mind when I think of the people who had the greatest influence on me, who really encouraged me to become a writer. There's my grade 6 teacher, Mr. Townsend, who encouraged me during our creative writing lessons and always called upon me to read my work to the rest of the class.

There's my first-year journalism program teacher, who always praised my work and, when I began work on my first novel (never published), wasn't afraid to tell me when my writing was "trite" and needed improvements.

And then there was Mr. Lemke, whose passion rubbed off on me, who supported me when I felt strongly about something, and showed me how to put myself out there, to throw away my notes.

Gurt Lemke was 87 when he passed away, on October 6.

About a year ago, I was watching a Canadian sci-fi on Netflix, Dark Matter, and saw the name Anthony Lemke in the credits. A Google search showed me that Anthony grew up in Nepean, so I reached out to him, through social media, and asked him if his father taught for the Carleton Board of Education.

Anthony replied, and said that, indeed, his dad was my English teacher. I asked Anthony for a favour, that if he could mention me the next time he spoke to his dad, to thank him for me.

I hope that message was delivered.

Visitation for Mr. Lemke is today, from 2:00 to 4:00, at the Tubman
Funeral Homes, at 3440 Richmond Road. Unlike the first time that he invited me to pay him a visit, I won't let him down.

When I finished high school, in 1984, I asked Mr. Lemke to sign my yearbook. I passed him the book, opened to the page with his photograph. He looked thoughtful, then began to write, a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes.

It was a quote, from one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It was the play upon which my presentation had me throwing away my notes.

"There is a divinity that shapes our ends."

Friday, October 11, 2019

Photo Friday: Up Before the Dawn

I love this time of year.

Generally speaking, I leave the house on my morning drive to work somewhere between 6:10 and 6:20 and am pulling into the parking lot between 30 and 40 minutes later.

I like to get in as early as possible so that I can leave as early as possible.

Autumn is my favourite season, as I've said many times over the years in this blog. I love the cool mornings and how the trees change from green to red, orange, and yellow. As I cruise along my route, at this time of year, my commute is getting darker and darker. Soon, I'll arrive at the office in darkness and leave as the last of the light begins to fade.

But for now, it's my favourite amount of lightness and darkness. Just before the dawn breaks.

With our recent weather, we've had warm days and cool nights. In the morning, driving along the Rideau Canal, patches of mist rise just above the water. The sky, when it's cloudless, is a cool blue; sometimes, with cloud, as we head toward sunrise, we see purple and red.

It's the best light for photographs.

I've made several stops, over the past few weeks, along my commute. The pre-dawn, pre-sunrise landscape is impossible to resist, with the reflections on the canal and light glowing from steel and glass.

I love this time of year.

Happy Friday!

Monday, October 7, 2019

In With Both Feet

I'm back... sort of.

I've actually tried writing a couple of posts over the past few months, but would lose my train of thought, become stuck on how to end the post, only to delete it and walk away.

If only I had done that with previous posts that I've published, The Brown Knowser would have come to an end years ago. But I digress.

When I said goodbye to my blog at the end of May, I did so with much regret because I actually loved writing. The problem was that writing The Brown Knowser was becoming stressful as I imposed ridiculous pressure on myself for getting something out, regardless of the content or quality.

Many of you have been kind to me and offered praise for my blog, and I thank you, but I think that praise inadvertently placed more pressure on me to continue the daily writing. But that's not on you, it's on me. The pressure was all on me.

So, after more than a four-month hiatus, I've decided to give this blog thing one more chance. I actually started writing this post almost a month ago, allowing myself time to come back to it, review it, make changes, and most importantly, remove the stress of getting it out in time for the next day.

If this goes well, I may return to blogging, but on a more reasonable timeline. Maybe once a week or every couple of weeks.

I left The Brown Knowser at a time when the biggest issue in my life was my left foot. If you've followed my blog in the past, you know that I had a degenerative condition with the bones in both of my feet, plus severe osteoarthritis, which caused acute pain in both feet and would sometimes restrict my ability to stand for any given length of time. I couldn't run, and if I walked for any distance I would feel the repercussions for days after.

In my 20s I had surgery to correct the degenerative bone condition—Köhler's disease—in my right foot, but the arthritis persisted. I had the same condition in my left foot but surgery at the time seemed less dire, and so I let it go and coped with the arthritis in that foot.

It was a couple of years ago that the Köhler's became a greater issue, to the point that a piece of bone in my left foot broke off while I was cycling from Kingston to Perth in the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. I had to end that ride in Elgin and wasn't able to cycle any distances until this summer.

I had reconstructive surgery last November, when my surgeon removed the bones that gave me problems and fused bone from my pelvis in their place. He also removed the arthritic joints, thereby removing all of the parts of my foot that gave me pain.

On the day of my last blog post, I revisited my surgeon for our six-month check up. At this meeting, he took x-rays of both feet to compare with the first set that he took, long before my surgery. He told me that this operation was his best work and that he was very pleased with the outcome. He had even written up my case in a medical journal and it was now being studied by his students (the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital is a learning centre). My surgeon added that it was a classic case of a rare condition and a complicated procedure to correct it, with a great patient (aww... shucks!).

In early consultations with the surgeon, he told me that the procedure on my right foot (about 30 years ago) had fused and there was nothing more to be done with it. At this appointment, I said, "It's too bad you can't do anything about the arthritis in my right foot."

"Actually, I can," was his answer. He showed me the x-ray of my right foot and pointed out the area in which the arthritis was its worst. He compared that area of my foot with the work he did on my left. "This area was untouched by your previous surgeon. That's also where you receive your injections." (I get steroid injections every six months or so for the arthritis. Before my last surgery, I received the shots in both feet but only get them in my right one, now.) "I can remove those joints. You'd never need to come in for injections again."

I wasn't sure how to react. For the most part, the injections are a lifesaver. Once the steroid kicks in, my pain is gone. In fact, my last injection was in April and I still walk pain-free. But receiving the injections are a bit of a hassle, as they must be done under a live x-ray. Another surgeon performs the procedure, where I receive three shots: the first, to freeze the area; the second, to inject a dye so that the surgeon can locate the most-advantageous crevice in which to insert the third injection, which delivers the steroid. It's a procedure that takes between 15 and 20 minutes, but I'm in the hospital for an hour.

It's not a big deal, but if another surgery means that I wouldn't have to return, and if all the pain was eliminated, perhaps the surgery is worth it.

Because it's my right foot, there are more things to consider. For one, I won't be able to drive for three months, maybe longer. That wasn't an issue when I had the surgery 30 years ago. I didn't own a car at the time and work was a short bus ride away. I was also younger and much more fit.

I didn't seem to have much difficulty getting around while my left foot was recovering. And when I purchased the iWalk hands-free crutch (which I referred to as my peg leg), I had very few problems getting around (though, I fell a couple of times). I have since sold that peg leg, but I'd certainly get one again. It's worth every penny.

I told my surgeon that I'd think about it and let him know when we meet again, at our one-year anniversary of my successful surgery.

I think I'm going to do it.

Knowing what to expect, I can jump in with both feet.

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.