Posted by: marthacoolcat | May 26, 2009

Leonard Cohen concert May 24 London, ON

So much gratitude. I am so lucky. I have seen Leonard Cohen perform twice. I am all googly-eyed over his soul. Okay, so I wrote out the play list.

Everyone stood and applauded when he came on the stage. Looking good, dapper with such a good hat. I almost bought one of the concert t-shirts, which had a sketch of his face and the quote “I guess it was the hat after all”. What was the hat? I don’t get it, but I like it.

At first I didn’t like the minimalist production, just long curtains with coloured lights shining on them. I laughed out loud when the video screens came on, and projected an image smaller than I could see with my own eyes. But I really came around. I like my Cohen unadulterated.

I said he looked like someone. Charles said Spock. Yep, that was it.

1. Dance me to the end of Love
The guy sure still can dance. I don’t know how many times he knelt and jumped back up. Every time he came on and or off stage he ran, no most often he skipped. Leonard Cohen, 76, skipped. A lot. Pretty Gleefully.

2. Repent
Now in the past I have looked down on the Cohen-ettes. I dislike the back up shoo-wop girls, but these ones were produced way better.
There’s a line in the song like, “and all the white girls danced”. Things kinda stopped Leonard and everyone looked over at the two of the three back up singers who were white, and they stepped over to the side, and the two of them did one cartwheel. As I felt a good twenty years younger than most of the audience, and there was a lot of clapping. Mff, for what?  Man, I did a cartwheel last week in the basement of the Pharmacy building! Charles said. “Did that just happen?” And yep just the white girls. In the thank yous Cohen thanked them for vocals, harp, and “gymnastics/ acrobatics”. I’m serious. Bizarre.

3. Ain’t no cure for love
I’ve heard all these songs many times before, but this time I noticed the line, I want to see you naked… in your thoughts. That’s an interesting thing to say.

4. Bird on a Wire
There was this 1920’s style cap wearing short-sleaved band member. Cohen thanked him for playing instruments of wind, which made my internal grad seven boy self laugh about farts. Anyways he had this weird way of jerking his head when playing that I found off-putting. I guess there has to be something for the people to -look- at.

5. Everybody knows
Nice and dark, mm mmm mm when Cohen’s lower register is like coffee grounds.

6. In My Secret Life
This was new to me, and the numero uno back up lady Sharon? sang a lot. They co-arranged a lot of the concert. I really dig this song. So Cohen, to sing about his secret life to stadium after arena full of strangers, all with a straight face. “Secret”.

7. Who by fire?
Great guitar solo at the beginning. I think it was Cohen who played.  Big shadow cast behind him. A lot of the guitar was done by this amazing guy from Barcelona. [Side note – I find it pleasurable, delectable, to say the word Barcelona]
Great organ/ synthesizer solo, and someone did wonders on the upright bass. Like banging his fist into it and sliding it upwards to make that particular sliding up sound.

8. I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
Everyone clapped at the “Tell you again I prefer handsome men, but for you I’d make an exception” line. I didn’t laugh at that. What’s less handsome about him now compared well anytime in my life time? But that’s me, I laugh when others don’t and don’t when they do. “You are all individuals!” “We are all individuals”. “I’m not”.

He changed a line I believe. He usually sings for those of them left there, and the older man sang for those of them left.

9. Waiting for a miracle

Then he talked. Oh I could die content! “I haven’t been doing much lately… I’ve been doing so much that people are starting to ask my opinion. I’ve developed a keen disinterest in my opinions. I can trot them out for show…” Then he said he had one piece of advice, freely given. I was drooling, on the edge of my seat. Now in that one instance, Cohen didn’t really reach the bar. I was ready for a gem to write on my bathroom mirror to live by. He said you know small circular magnifying mirror in hotel bathrooms, sometimes ringed with neon lights? No one over fifty should look at that mirror.

He said it is wonderful to be together, when so much of the world is in chaos and suffering. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

I have long loved this quote. I associate it with cozy Saturday afternoons after going to the market with Matt WT with money his mom gave us for buying samosas. We’d eat in a lovely church pew nook in their kitchen, and their house had wonderful profound quotes taped up all over. Maybe it was such a quote, but his dad David also had this “crack in everything ” quote in a book, the Impossible Uprooting, I think.

I hadn’t noticed the Forget your perfect offering introit until now. Thought-invoking…

10. There’s a crack in everything

At the end, he introduced each musician and – he bowed to each of them. I don’t know who else I hold in so much regard, who else could carry off that gesture with so much earnest humility and generosity.


He was alone on stage and said maybe you have seen one of these things before, i.e. electric piano. He had it all pre-programmed to play the chords, which was a little odd. He did a little one hand fingering of the occasional melody line. On the close up, I notice his right thumb was shaking. Ah the truth of the body always catches up with us, always betrays us, reveals us.

11. Tower of Song
I had been thinking abotu this song ever since Len Enns’ stellar concert, and can a human try to build a tower of Babel of song up to the heavens?
“I was born like this, with a golden voice” oh sing it Leonard.

If they ask me to write the sadly inevitable obituary, I’d quote, “You’ll be hearing from me/ Long after I’m gone/ I’ll be talking to you/ From the tower of song”.

12. Suzanne takes you down
At this point I was getting frustrated with the over use of the camera fading out, like going out of focus when shifting from one shot to another.
I got think about media, and Jean Baudrillard, and Marshall McLuhan, when I noticed how much more I looked at a reproduction on the screen rather than the real actual person who was straight in front of me.

There was this one particularly tender moment, when he just held, nuzzled the rest, he came in just a little after the beat, and he got me, I was fooled, scared he wouldn’t start singing the line.  Martha, as if you are not safe in the hands of a master.  Fear not.

13. Sisters of Mercy
My random misfit thought of this concert was when “More cowbell!” came into my mind. *no* idea why.
This song made me aware, again that Cohen, not unlike Irving Layton, is vague on his position on monogamy and poliamoury.

14. that war/ refugee song – an old woman gave us shelter/ she died without a whisper, and then it is partly in French…

Where is the wisdom in today’s music?

15. Boogie street.
No Leonard, just Sharon. A lowlight for me. I gave it the thumbs down.

16. Hallelujah
Ah from nadir to apex! Such improvement. I love this song and every version of it I have ever heard.

Unfortunately, Cohen, ‘drew an Hallelujah’ from the lips of the guy in seat M11, two people over from me. Not just one. He loudly and badly belted out the song.

When I was in Vietnam I had spring rolls, and I am embarrassed to say that my reaction was oh I’ve had better at home. In that vein, I almost preferred KD Lang or Jeff ___’s version of the song.

Line I noticed, “I did not come to hold you, just to fool yah”

The left the stage, got a standing ovation, and skipped back on.


17. I’m Your Man
almost too happy
Mm mm mm sexy.
“If you want this senior’s discount/ I’m your man”

18. Poem – A Thousand Kisses Deep
How do you seduce a stadium of people all at once?
“I’m old but I’m into that”
I ducked my head down when I wiped the corners of my eyes.

19. Take this waltz
He sometimes had this way of dancing where he leaned from one widely spaced foot to the other. Reminded me of some of my autistic friends, just that on way of moving.

Some running and skipping away and running and skipping back

He didn’t even really make us work for it.

I wish I could -give- you more than rising and clapping.

20. So Long Marianne
sweet moment. At this point in time in the concert it feels like I am living on borrowed time.

21. First we take Manhattan
There’s a line about ” the man who brought your groceries in/ First we take Manhattan/ then we take Berlin” Was he running out of lines? Groceries? So pedestrian, so quotidian.

22. Famous Blue Raincoat
I like my Cohen less adulterated. Oh electronic-saxophone guy, just say no to muzac.

I think he changed another line. I recall and your woman (or my woman?) is free, but he sang there’s a woman and she’s free.

23. If it Be your will
Then he talked. ‘A while ago, as I faced my own difficulties… he wrote this.. If it be your will/ that I speak no more/ Abide till I be spoken for/ if it be your will… from this broken…/ to let me sing…”

I couldn’t get it all down, but it was simple and lovely. I am sad and comforted at the same time to see the shadow of mortality cast on Cohen.

Then the Webb sisters sang it. They were good. I thought about buying the CD just for that song.

Ah lovely lovely lovely.

24. Closing Time
Who is surprised by that as the swan song?
My inner former Wendy’s Restaurant employee was charmed by the line, “and the holy Spirit’s crying Where’s the Beef?”

“She’s a hundred but she’s wearing something tight” Who other than Cohen could get away with that?

He said good night my precious friends.  I don’t want to leave you.  He played from 8:00 to 11:20.  Impressive.

I want to be reincarnated and come back as a minor chord played by Leonard Cohen.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | February 13, 2009

11002 Things To Be Miserable About

Miscarriages (of babies and/ or justice)

Rust (how can life giving air make things decay?)

Sarah Harmer’s “Trouble in these fields”

William Blake says that the children who clean chimneys used to attract business by announcing their work, but it came out “weep weep”

Broken headlights

Lonely web users

Lonely library users

Getting a ticket for a broken headlight

Overdue fines

Children in poorly ventilated factories making anything fluorescent

Shopping at the Biway for plastic shoes

Post surgery shaved cats

Dogs with cones on their heads who can’t get their mouths low enough to eat

If golf is your biggest pleasure and chief ambition, unless your Tiger

Licking car stalactites – those slush formations under your car behind your tires

North Korea


Patriotism, too much of it.

Child soldiers

Child addicts

Child porn


That the game Monopoly is popular


That my car tire could ever explode

Exhaust fumes


One shoe in the middle of the median

Being out of gas

Children reciting things they don’t believe

Sun bleached forgotten neglected toys

Litter in space

White woolen mitten post puddle

Dirty lipstick



They burned the velveteen rabbit



Old fries


Plastic packaging

Uncontrolled intersections

Not-visionary teachers




Root canal



US borders

PETA ads

Hospital garbage bins

Invasive species

Black ice

I bought berries in February and they rotted

Mold on chocolate sauce

Fridge whine

Road kill

Urban sprawl

Selfish politicians


Willful ignorance

Drinking cleaning products for the alcohol

Mercury in breastmilk

Someday Jean Vanier, Johnathan Goldstein, Sean Cullen, and Douglas Coupland will be dead




A widow’s first Valentine’s Day

Butter icing made from margarine

Short haired Barbie, old unloved toys

Receiving and undesirable but homemade gift

Love ending

Not forgiving

Spousal abuse that began during pregnancy


Trainwrecks with dead people

Gas station washrooms

The airline broke my suitcase

Saved wine that went bad

Milk that went bad

Relationships that went bad

Cops that went bad

You have to debeak chickens to stop them from pecking each other to death

Veal production

Fox canceled _Firefly_

Moth eaten clothes

The smell of moth balls

Lose lose situations

Removing others’ hair etc. from the drain

Loudly unhappy kids at the mall

Babies on my flight

Late papers



People belittling themselves


Smoke stacks were once a sign of a successful city

Traffic lights changing for no one

Never playing

Peeling paint

Mal- or under- functioning toilet

Drunk fraternity mob mentality

Wet cats


The enduring appeal of boogers to children

Peanut free zones


Bowels that are irritated

Why couldn’t the sky dome keep its generic brand free first name?

Rejected love letters

Getting an I’m-breaking-up-with-you voicemail

Farm animals that didn’t get a year of the Chinese Zodiac named after them

Paving farm land

Date rape drugs

Moms who can’t lay off

Laid-off moms

Poor radio reception fuzz

Font mis-choice (Cartoon letters, like multiple exclamation marks should be used sparingly)

The ugliest snow endures the longest

Uncomfortable silences


People with hangovers

Selling dead people’s clothes

Infrequent sunlight aka cloudy Waterloo Novembers

Nuclear winter

The interest on Pay-Day loans

That people try to sell expensive cars and stuff to first nations people who just got a payout from the government

Tying ladies to train tracks

Lonely circus freaks and carnies’ teeth

General poor dental self-care

The number of murders we’ve all watched on tv etc.

I could go on and on! Well, okay actually that was 134(ish?) things to be miserable about. On the CBC Radio show _Q_, Jian Gomeshi interviewed the authors of this book/ list of _11002 Things to be Miserable About_, a parody of those _14000 things to be Happy About_ books. I thought I would make my own list. It was pretty fun. They are not AT ALL IN ANY WAY prioritized. I was driving during it, so auto-related misery inspiring things are probably over represented. They had some funny ones like the sex lives of early Puritans.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | January 7, 2009

D.A.R.E. — To Get Off Drugs, Kids!!!

I took my last malaria pill yesterday, and now I can take my handful of pills that will kill any worms I may have acquired. Why do I find anything funny and charming about that possibility?

So I am home.  It’s a bit weird.  I used to tell the Intercordia students who went abroad to do three months of international service that coming home can be harder than adjusting to the new place.  I don’t think I have culture shock, but I do notice stuff.

I do a double take when people drive out of a mall or something not on the side of the road I would expect.

There are no geckos running up the walls.

I’m supposed to wear my seatbelt all the time.

Recycling.  There’s options for garbage other than the road?

Mm, tap water, how I’ve missed your ease and accessibility.

Everything is normal, anticipate-able.

It’s colder than Thailand.

No one stares at me and tells me I am so tall.

I can drive and cook.

Life went on like normal back home while I was away.

It has stayed the same time zone for a week.  My watch is bored.

I know what food I am eating. I know how to order.  The menus here – they are all in English.  So convenient! but kind of boring.  It’s too easy.

No piles of rubble lying around on the streets.  Rather those are piles of snow.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 28, 2008

Seattle- hello from the wifi bus

Well after sort of sleeping through what would have been the day in Korea and the night in BC, I got in at 6:45 (BC time) (11:45 in Korea). After cruising through customs in Holland, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Japan, and Korea, I had my longest delay yet, in, of course, America.  Apparently my 2006 student visa to study at Syracuse was not sufficiently voided, so I had wait around for an hour while people fussed about about it.

It’s weird to be in N America.  I did a double take at a person driving a car from the left hand side.  Driving on the other side of the road is not just a british thing.  they did it in Malaysia, Tanzania, India,  not Korea though.

There’s actual snow here, not just a powdering of dust.  My first snow of the year.

Oh – I have to get off the bus and do Canadian Customs now.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 27, 2008

I left my Seoul in Korea

I am waiting for my delayed flight to leave Seoul at the moment, which gives me a second to catch my breath and catch up on blogging. Okay so what have I done for my ten days in Korea?
Thurs Dec 18 arrive and get to the Embassy. Ahhh, so nice to have a room of my own.

F dec 19 I stayed in for the morning, walked in the neighbourhood, looked at public art, went to the spa got a scrub down scouring, ate Jukporridge for lunch with Brent, appetizers (amazing lemon cilantro dip!) at Rene’s, delicious French meal, then drinks, and finally dancing at Queen. A very fun if tiring night.

Sa 20 Kevin and Brenda came to town, and we all went to Namdaemun. We came back to Brent’s and ate Paris Bakery chocolate cake. That night Sergeant Wayne had us all over for a Christmas party. I like this crowd.
Sun Dec 21 Brent and I went to Insadong where there’s art, fabric, celadon pottery, lots of things with inlaid mother of pearl, clothes for small ladies, and art. We ate bulgogi (Korean Barbeque). Koreans use chopsticks, but not wooden ones, ones made of metal. Way easier to reuse. They also set the table with a long handled soup spoon. Next, Brent and I went to Haddon House, the imported stuff grocery store. We got home so late we were starving so we went to Mr. Pizza, whose slogan is “Love for Women”. We had an odd pizza, bacon and potatoes, with stuffed crust, but it wasn’t stuffed with real cheese, maybe whipped oil, maybe sweet potato, I dunno. We watched “The Nightmare Before Christmas” but neither of us loved it.
M 22 stayed home day. Tried to find a DMZ tour online that I could join.
T 23 – I went to the DMZ. They have a movie of bizarre propaganda about the DeMilitarized Zone. “The DMZ is our hope. The DMZ is the last place in the 21st century where man and animals can coexist peacefully.” The fullybelieve in the inevitability of a reunified Korea. The film starts with a bad overdone rock beat and all these power shots of South Korean soldiers, but it just made me grimaced embarrassedly. There’s a forlorn lost little girl crying as bombs explode at the beginning, and then by the end she’s all cleaned up, and magically touching things that flourish andgrow. Seeping with an odd patriotism.
Then I took the subway ($1) and 45 minute bus ($2.70) (so cheap!) out to Yongjin where Kevin and Brenda live. We visited in their place, and as non-Korean’s we sat ON the couch, not on the floor leaning against the couch. We went to a hole in the wall, or floor rather, as it was a basement, where you can get all you can eat barbeque at the table. I tried eel and octopus.
W 24 – baking for party, hosting Christmas Eve party. A lot of embassy-ites (embassadors?) stay in country for Christmas, so there was a neat collection of Kiwi, American, British and Australians who came over. Shauna made tacos.
I went to church.
Th 25 – Brent and I opened our pressies, Brent cooked the turkey, and we went over to Steph and Tauri’s (Aussies) for a trad Christmas diner. Great view from the 12th floor, and really fun company.
F 26 – Boxing Day Steph and Tauriinvited us back for leftovers lunch. Steph was all pumped to go to Dragon Spa, but it was closed! I wandered through the National Museum, and then went to Marronier Park in Haehwah, near Dongdaemun to hunt for my SouthKorean cousin (in law) Vick’s art, but I couldn’t find it sadly. I DID have a Korean experience of eating starch in a tent. Now I bet you can imagine a tent restaurant, and I say starch because my meal was large (pinky-finger sized) glutonous rice ‘links’ in spicy red sauce, wonton-wrapped rice, deep fried, andtempura fried noodle. Yummy, but what’s so bad about other food groups once in a while? Then I took the subway home, where just a few doors from the embassy there is this percussion show, kind of  like _Blue Man_, but with kitchen things to make the noise. It was really good, funny silly, great rhythms. When they asked for a volunteer, yours truly sat right up and beamed and waved like the sun. It worked! So I was on stage, tasting a weak congee, wearing wedding wear, and hamming it up with the actors. My Korean “husband” was more embarrassed to be on stage. That’s barely worth typing, because Koreans are very easily embarrassed, and I am extroverted like a golden retriever puppy in this kind of situation. I got a great photo of us at the end of the show, but sadness of sadnesses, no sooner did I figure out I was married, then I was deserted!  Hubbie didn’t even pick up his copy of our wedding photo.  I shouldn’t be too surprised ti wasn’t marital bliss; Brent says Korea is full of MBAs. Married But Available. Oh well, I’m too feminist to be happy as a (traditional) Korean wife. Easy come easy go. I walked around the ‘hood and took some photos before coming home, all in all, very happy with my day. THEN it got even better when Brent and I watched _Elf_. I have a large spot on my heart nd gut for anything Will Ferrel. I laughed so hard, repeatedly. My fave Christmas movie. “Santa’s coming, I know that guy”. I really want to have a Will Farrell Science Fiction movie watching symposium weekend. Okay James?
Sun 27 – I futzed about in the am, planning the stuff I’d bring to the post office so they could pack it. Hours later, I got to the Post office, and it was closed! Grrrr. Brent and I went to Insadong in the afternoon, and to Colonel Steve’s beautiful apartment for a Belgian (duh, wouldn’t you have assumed that was coming too?) meal, castonade (beef stew)  in tall round glasses, frites, and chocolate lava cake. Mmmm. Then Jacki (the mom) and Cassandra? (the daughter) played music on the flute and piano. A lovely evening. The Colonel and I didn’t see eye to eye on the bravery of Ursula Franklin, and I just didn’t bring up anything more about pacifism. He disliked CNN’s coverage of the American election, too lefty I think. The food was delicious, and the hospitality very gracious.
Then I went home and fretted about packing and repacking till 5am. Maybe this will reset my circadian rhythms…
28 – flying. Brent drove me to the airport at 8, but the flight is delayed. Now you are up the the minute on Martha’s life.


I have really mixed feelings about this flight, because I am really excited to see friends in Vancouver and then Ontario, I am sad that this is my last country.  I have LOVE loved this trip, and I’ve learned so much.  I feel so grateful for my adventures, for my life, for my sense of curiosity and boldness.  Well, they’re boarding finally, an hour late.  Take care, Martha

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 25, 2008

Korean Christmas

Christmas Eve Day I did some baking, inspired by Brenda K’s Mennonite cookies. I made Kara PU’s cheesecake chocolate cupcakes with candy cane on top. Mmmm. I am happy to be in a home with a kitchen. I also made Fretzie’s hot artichoke dip, which I also love.

Brent had friends over for food and drinks, and it was neat to meet lots of people from other embassies. I am impressed by the hours of contemporary Christmas music that people have on thie i-touches.

I went to the Anglican Cathedral for midnight-ish mass at 10:30. It was not at all theologically pushy, and I was very grateful for that.

Outside there were tonnes of Koreans just walking around. They don’t stay in with family, and it isn’t nearly as cold, but I hadn’t expected the skating rink to be full, people to have shopping bags, or (weirdest sight) the riot police to be boarding their buses and leaving. Leaving what, I do not know.

Christmas morning Brent and I opened our pressies and ate a big breakfast. I can’t say we, because I didn’t help with this part, but at 6 am Brent finished defrosting and stuffed the 21 pound turkey, and into the oven it went. We’re headed over to Steph and Tori’s for the big Christmas Day dinner later. She has Lindt Chocolate. I love her already.

Christmas morning

Christmas morning

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 22, 2008

Heart and Seoul

I deplaned in Korea and Brent my high school friend, met me at the gate. That’s a nice thing. I’m pretty used to getting off finding my feet and bearings and just getting to whatever comes next, but it’s nice to see an old friend.

I feel like I am getting some Western creature comforts for my Christmas. I am staying with Brent at the embassy, in his nice totally Canadian-style apartment. I have my own room for ten days, and I happily unpacked I arrived. When I was 20 and traveling, I wouldn’t waste time unpacking – I’d just live out of a suitcase.

The next day we went out for rice-porridge. Brent got beef mushroom, I got crab. It was kind of bland, had a touch of “please sir can I have some more” gruel to it, but quite filling. No risk of being so firey hot that I couldn’t eat it. it’s a very Korean thing to eat, so I am glad I did.

I walked around on my own, and saw some cool public art, called “Your Long Journey”, which I found quite apropos. Beside it is Hammer Man, a five story steel structure that points out the futility of work buy constantly hammering something. I didn’t take it to be the (“)real(“) art which it is (there’s another in Seattle), because the Koreans dressed him up in red bootees and a Santa hat. There’s a lot of Christmas decorations here, and Westerners will find it a bit gaudy. That’s just culture, different assumptions.

Friday night Brent, Rene, Hendrik, and I (other embassy guys) when out for French food. My rule is as long as I eat local food once a day, I’m okay. It was delicious, if odd to eat Euro delicacies (pork terrine, goat cheese salad, and chocolate mouse) in Asia. Then we had drinks and met some Aussies and British embassy peeps, and then a bunch of us went to Queen’s a gay bar on The Hill. (The hill is also sometimes known as homo hill, and it is reached via the also aptly named hooker hill. Hey, I just report this stuff, I don’t make it up.) I haven’t really been dancing in months, and it was so fun. In the small crowded smoky bar, there was a marble catwalk in the middle and it was pretty much the only place you could dance, so Rene pulled me up, and it was so so great. I think I danced most of the night.

I forget that some places you had to breathe smoky air while dining. This is one of those places. Japan too is the new France, i.e. the place where public smoking isn’t uncool yet.

Saturday my U of T theology colleague Kevin and his wife Brenda came into the city. They are teaching English here. We went to NamdaeMun- a well, a bit like a giant outdoor dollar store, with many odd things. There’s a weird thing they eat here, silk worm larvae stewed in their own juices and pee and poo, then roasted. It has a strong signature smell, which Brent finds very distasteful, and I can’t say that he’s being obtuse. Haven’t tried that yet, but I did eat a “timbit” filled with red bean sweet filling, a spicy Arabic kabob, and deep fried octopus legs.



Sat night we went to a Christmas party at Sergeant Wayne’s. He and his family live in a hotel, for years. That’s get weird I think. It was a lot of fun, and these people are getting familiar, and I can joke with everyone. I read stories with little Sydney before bed. They can get all kinds of Western food from the base, so I keep forgetting I am in Korea.

Sunday I slept till noon, and then Brent and I went to Insadong, a really fun artier little district with neat shops. I am carrying a ridiculous amount of stuff in my luggage already; those who love me should not let me shop anymore! But I found some really cool stuff.

I walked out of the super high class department store, Lotte (a Korean cross between Eaton’s and Herrod’s) , and I was so happy, because it was snowing! I had been gearing up to settle for a green Christmas, and then this! It looked so beautiful, but it didn’t feel that cold out. Then I looked more, and it was all coming from one place. It was fake! They blow out fake snow. It was actually a kind of soap bubble, I know, because later licked my dirty glasses (they were really dirty okay, and with a big splotch), and trust me, it was soap. I was mildly dejected about that, and impressed by the level of fakeness in Korea.

We watched _The Polar Express_. Made me think about the odd North American mythology of Christmas. Aren’t we as odd as every other culture that gets studied by anthropologists? Think how it would sound to aliens of people of the future. The man who delivered material goods was not a deity, but as imbued with some supernatural abilities including mind reading. He was all seeing, and capable of extremely fast travel. I am not sure why my agnostic Unitarian parents played the game with my sister and I. Would I tell kids the Jolly Lama, the Big Man in Red exists? Dunno, maybe it’s worth participating in the mass delusion. Now you are calling me a party pooper.

Today Monday I had a veg out day, and sorted my stuff, and planned my visit for tomorrow to the Demilitarized Zone between The Democratic (?) People’s Republic of Korea (which you know as North Korea) and The Republic of Korea (Which you call the south). Should be interesting. There’s a dress code. No leather, no military uniforms, no ripped clothes, nothing offensive, no shirts without collars. No flip flops. Shoot when it’s negative 2, that’s my fave footware! Should be interesting. It is not an ended war, there’s just an armistice. Apparently, 20 years ago, the southerners decided to take down a tree in the no man’s land n the middle, because it obscured the view. As they were hacking, the Northerners didn’t like it, so they came over. A scuffle ensued, and a south Korean soldier was killed with an axe. Zoinks!

Brent and I went western grocery shopping today. Now there’s this thing, called the “Supermarket Tour”, and they classify grocery stores into rich people grocery stores and poor people grocery stores, according to their interior design, products available, product placement etc. At home this would have qualified as poor people grocery store. Small. Few displays. No market-deli murals. Few aisles. But then you get to the checkout clerk, and it all changes. We payed W240 000 i.e. 240$ for four bags of not extraordinary groceries. Phew. You can pay $23 for a small bottle of stuffed olives. It was odd, because I realised that my jam and cheese would seem the way Oriental grocery stores seem at home – in a foreign language, weird looking and smelling, and totally unusual. Even at six bucks, its worth it for salt and vinegar chips. I’ve been really missing that.

Gotta go to sleep, I have a warzone to visit tomorrow!

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 22, 2008

Back to Tokyo

I took a tour of the peace park and all the monuments that have been erected around ground zero. It’s odd to think of ground zeros, not just the 9/11 ground zero. Interesting how one event eclipses a term.

Matthew did make it to Miho-san’s tour. She lost uncles in the A-bomb attack, who are probably in the mound of 70 000 people cremated together, because no one claimed the bodies because often every next of kin was also dead. They now know 8000 of the names, but that’s less than one in seven. There a big mound where their ashes are. I stood where they aimed the bomb, andI saw the actual ground zero. Everywhere I walked felt like a grave, felt haunted, creepy, like a murder scene or a grave. Well it was. It was odd to see trees with green, to hear birds.

Then I Matt and I went out for Japanese. Another exciting ordering experience. It was a really fun dinner. I learned that in Korea (where Matt lives – he’s a five board-kicking TaeKwonDo instructor in Seoul, but get this, from Oregon) you never pour your own strong rice spirit, you always pour for the other person. We ate weird food, but they were out the beef “stamina-increasing dish”, which could have helped Matt’s return to health.

I caught the night bus to Tokyo in the nick of time, in true Martha fashion, and settled in till we got to an odd rest stop, and the doozey Japanese business men and I stumbled into washrooms and back out onto the bus again.

In Tokyo I went to a fun shopping district, and couldn’t choose how I wanted to spend my day, and I ended up at the zoo. I thought in such a big city, the zoo would be large, humane, well-funded, and spacious. Uh, not so much. Memories of _Happy Feet_ started to harsh my mellow a bit.

I decided that I wanted an acupuncture massage as my last ting I’d do in Japan. I pointed at my back and signaled poke poke poke with my finger. Pretty clear, right? The tourist information people misunderstood me and told me how o go to the department store to buy … pins? “You want to do it yourself?” I thought they meant I could buy a kit. “No I want someone to do it to me”. They were talkign about body piercing I realised. I think it was because I have a nose ring, which is uncommon here. I said it is like shiatsu. A round of “Ahhh”s erupted from teh perplexed girls when I said that and when I made a massaging gesture. Apparently acupuncture clinics are everywhere, but I’ll never know. I decided that a shiatsu massage would have to be a sufficiently cultural activity.

It was different. After changing into a little cotton kimono top and drawstring shorts, I lay on the table, and a small Japanese woman climbed on kneeling and shoved fingertips, wrists, elbows and arms into my back. Interesting, felt good, but some of it only felt good afterwards.

I took the train to the wrong terminal, and madly dashed around, late getting my suitcase out of storage, getting more cash to pay for storage, and getting to my counter late, and breezing breathlessly onto the plane. I was not the last – some Americans with a late connection held up the departure for 15 minutes. I squeezed in some postcard posting in their, and some snack-buying. I’d hate to be bored!

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 22, 2008

“How do you go on after something like that?”

It was really good to meet Kasaoka-san, the A-bomb survivor. There was supposed to be two of us hearing her story, but Matt was late and kind of ill out of it getting into town with an injury, and he never made it. So I had her to myself, which was cool, but not so great because the number of people coming to Hiroshima every year, for the Aug 6 memorial has been going down every year. That’s concerning, especially when the new PR campaign for nuclear is a “green” energy. The survivors are very clear about their stance on nuclear issues.

Sometimes learning about awful things or watching movies with violence and pain in them, I note that I don’t have as strong of a reaction as I might have. It sounds awful to say, but it’s that way. Like I can’t retain the full humanity and the loss of one more body. Something has to twinge or tweak to remind me what I am taking in. One of those moments was when A man dying a horrible, painful death mustered the strength to take the saddle and bridal off of his dying horse. What well do you draw upon to be tender while dying? Did I already tell you about this? It was in one of the drawings by survivors. I never thought about the animals dying. People must have had pets. How could a cat ever comprehend what was happening to her? to her kittens?

Look at this. Some dead cats does not a world tragedy make. Maybe I catch my heart’s breath at dying animals because it is a digestible chunk. Like trying to imagine the difference between 1 000 000 degrees Celsius and 4 000 degrees Celsius. I couldn’t handle the 93 degree hot sauna at the bath, so — numbers like that I can’t wrap my head around, let alone numbers of decimated people. A heaving, wild eyed, mewling horse – somehow I can — maybe its that I can imagine that amount of pain with out averting my inner eye. If I imagine a sudden overwhelming heat wave, and think about how it hurt to inhale in the sauna, how water falling off my hair felt like it was burning, , and then try to magnify that, maybe I can start to understand. I know the scale is way way off, but – maybe it is like those Styrofoam balls you made for elementary school science fair models of the universe, you can only kind of start to get a notion of the scale of distance.

I can barely tell you some of the things she said. How does a teenager cremate her own father? She was telling us about trying to help him. He did manage to stumble home, unrecognisable and completely burned. He lived or two days. In a moment of tenderness, she tried to give her Dad a beer at the end, because he loved beer, but he couldn’t drink anymore. She said when she touched his skin a, sheet? of it fell off, and then she showed me something. She had a piece of large black construction paper, and she lifted off a strip, and there was red construction paper underneath. It’s pretty simple, but so visible. She could see his muscle.

I asked her about forgiveness, and about talking when others still couldn’t.

I asked her how do you go on after something like that? She shrugged, and paused. “I felt like my life had reached a bottom”. “I call it hell”. A lot of survivors called it hell.

Coincidentally I met her niece in law who was her translator before the talk in the cafeteria. Sachiko-san told me that she wants to do this kind of work because when something awful happens, she wants to learn as much about it as she can, and find out if there is one little thing that she can do, and then she does that thing. That kind of bowls me over. As I left I told her I think her aunt is a kind of hero. Kasaoka-san said she came to the point where she believed she had a responsibility to talk. (I don’t mean to sound self-satisfied, re: my reasons to come to an — unusual vacation location but) I told her I felt like I had a responsibility to learn.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 16, 2008

Hello from hiroshima

I took the bullet train yesterday afternoon (the silly flower arranging people thought I meant next week, guess they don’t know last-minute, shoehorn it ino my schedule martha!) The bullet train is the fastest in teh world, going 300 km/hour. It only took four hours. I passed Mt. Fuji, but as it was dark at 4:30 (??) I couldn’t see it.

I ate a yummy meal of BBQed meat and veggies. I ordered by pointing. My only exciting moment was when my skewer of white meat came, the chef pointed at his neck. That was a little worrisome. Another customer told me it was chicken neck. Tasted good, “Ooshi!” means delicious.

I’m staying at the world friendship Centre, near Peace Park. The hosts are Brethern Volunteers, a really cool couple. I could talk to Kent and Sarah for hours. It’s an assignment I could see me loving, some hospitality, some ESL, and other odd mixed tasks. The house is soo Japanese, I have a futon rolled out in my room, with a sliding wooden doors, thin walls, small halls – I looove it. Grass mas? like woven pads on the floor. Last night i read a book of survivor’s drawings of the bomb. Pretty chilling. “skin hanging off” was a phrase that stuck to me. Hiding in cisterns. Unrecognisable neighbours. I am a little nervous to hear a survivor tell her story today, but that’s why I came here. I think there’s something important to understand about humanity, and what happened here. Jean Vanier says everyone should visit an institution for the disabled, a concentration camp and Hiroshima. The book said the Americans dropped the bomb to justify the money it took to create it. Economics! What a stupid stupid reason to create hell on earth. That’s what lots of the drawings called it. The heat of the bomb is unthinkable — a million degrees, and then a wave of 3-4000 degrees. I can’t think of that.

Off to the museum, wish me mental fortitude and grace and –los of emotional enymes to digest what I’ll learn today.

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