call from the sea

sea in Weligama, Sri Lanka

On a one-month journey in Sri Lanka

I thought I was to explore an ancient nation….

 

It turns out

that I am here

to investigate, at last,

an inexplicable, lifelong pull

from the night sea that sang to me

in unknown memories, and in my earliest dreams,

calling me farther and farther onto its moonlit waters

with the wistful melody of a wooden pipe rising up in the zephyrs

to voyage forth into that world somewhere beyond the evening horizon…

 

 

where I belong.

My mother called me late at night

Late at night, my mother called me…..

I do not have a close relationship with her. I barely communicate with her.
I only speak with her perhaps three or four times a months over the phone…….
or in short, pithy emails.

My mom and I used to fight a lot when I was in Korea.
She is a strongly traditional, authoritarian Korean mother.
I am rebellious and head-strong.

I worked to make my own money ever since the 8th grade,
…in a country where 30-something-year-olds still live their parents…
to maintain my independence and justify my distance.

But now that I am studying in America,
it is my mother and my father who are paying for my education at USC.
I was only able to earn a half-tuition scholarship…
and my parents are constantly struggling to pay the rest for me…….

I am humbled, but frustrated because I am now dependent on my parents…
I am grateful, but scared because sometimes my funds run so low…
I am ashamed and sorry because I know I have become a huge burden on my whole family…
I am driven because I am determined to make millions and compensate my parents, to ease my mother.

But we are so distant. I cannot share with her my frustration, my gratitude, my ambitions.
And she is so worried. I cannot let her know my troubles, my fears, my unconventional life…..
.
.
.
.
.
Late at night, my mother called me.

She asked me why I am so busy all the time.
She asked me what I was doing right now; I mumble “I’m working.”
Working on what, she asks. She knows I’m on vacation from school.
“Uh. Just stuff.”
She starts fretting about paying for tuition, and if I am getting enough to eat,
if I am doing okay in school, if I can afford all the text books,
if I am safe in that country full of crazy people with guns…

I cannot tell her that I am teaching dance, and that is why I can’t answer her calls at night.
I cannot tell her that I am putting together a small company, and that is why I am busy.
I cannot tell her that I live close to Taco Bell and Wendy’s, and that is how I eat.
I cannot tell her that I ask people for rides, and that is how I am safe.
I cannot tell her that I dance everyday, and that is why I am tired.
I cannot tell her anything, because she will be so, so shocked…..

I cannot tell her that I cannot tell her anything, and that is why my emails are so short.

So I finally blurt out, when my mother called me so late at night, the only thing I could tell her…

“Just… Stop worrying. When I graduate, I will make a lot of money, and give you some.”

It is not the sweetest thing one might say to one’s mother…
I couldn’t even say “I’m sorry” or “thank you.”
But for me, it was the most emotional, most vulnerable, and most honest blurt that I have ever blurted to her.

She cried.

For the first time ever, I wasn’t able to hide that I was crying too.

 

 

originally written : 18 août 2009 / Los Angeles

I touched the tail fin of a dead dolphin

I touched the tail fin of a dead dolphin.

Glossy black, save for the eerie whitish structure showing in spots from underneath the leathery skin, scrubbed clean off its entire bloody snout, lower jaw, and in strange, serial scars all down along its side… all lined up and spaced out rather evenly… oddly reminding me of some white clouds I once saw lined up against a purple sky over the sea in Dubrovnik…

How did this being die? How did he end up here… on this cold night shore, a small surf town in unlikely Korea…? How did it come to be so scarred? Did it struggle against the sand and waves? Or did it pass onto death long before it passed onto land? What could have scraped away such immense, such cruel patches of his black leather skin… and why…?

I cannot help, when I crouch close to this departed sea mammal, peer into his face, eyes closed, lips slightly open, revealing smooth, white teeth, the still-red blood drying in the edges of each white wound, I cannot help but to think of a wild terror, of a searing pain, of a desperate battle for life….

Foaming white waves rush in all around us in the black night, and all around the black dolphin. I hope the waves will take him with them… back to home… back to the sea… back to the treacherous, perilous, worse, indifferent sea….

But he is not carried back home. His body lists slightly into the seawater as it rushes back out to the dark vastness, drawing back some of the surrounding sand… but the body lies there still.

I wonder for a moment if I should enlist my friend to help me gently push him into the tide, to send him back to where—I cannot help but to think—he had so desperately fought, and lost, to return to. In the end, however, I could not bring myself to be so bold as to dare make that heavy decision, to even propose that I make that grave, almost unearthly, decision, seems too brazen, even insolent.

Instead, we just walk quietly along the midnight beach, back to our hostel. She to get some ice cream, I to get back to my Macbook Air and my nightly writing.

Will the lost dolphin find its way back to its water home, and find a dolphin’s burial there? Or will the sea never take him back? Will the local experts take up its body for processing, whatever processing it may be that such forsaken bodies undergo?

We leave that decision to the sea. The body lies there still.

 

 le jeudi 15 septembre 2016 / Songjeong, Busan, South Korea

Last night a guy follows me into a dark and abandoned street…

April 2014 — İstanbul, Turkey

 

Last night a guy follows me into a dark and completely abandoned street (right in front of my door) and tries to talk to me.

Says he wants to talk to me.

I have a sixth sense for perverts. This is no lost tourist asking for directions. And the innocent do not attempt harmless chitchat in the obscurity of darkness.

I whip around! I SNARL.
GO AWAY. I DON’T want to talk to you.

He keeps coming closer and tries to keep talking anyway.

Go AWAY. I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.
I growl at him with all the pent up aggression that has built up in me from having to deal with the endless perverted sicko dickheads, dozens by the hour.

He wavers but he opens his dirty little mouth again,
and this time I yell at him. I feel as though the hatred in my voice might just be able to push him down. Down onto his slimy ass.

He is defeated. He knows he has to go, but he makes a desperate jab for my hair, too cowardly to make a move for my face, and too dastardly to simply turn around and go. He slaps my hair into the air and BOLTS. It may seem an odd and pointless gesture, but we both knew exactly what that meant.

It was contempt. It was disrespect. A pathetic attempt at a display of dominance…. gone pitifully awry, betraying more than anything… *COWARDICE*. He couldn’t properly take advantage of me… so he contents himself with feebly flicking my hair to the side. A meek but direct challenge to my command that he stay AWAY from me!

He bolts. I ROAR!!!!!!

HEY!! HEY!!! HHHHEEEEEEEEEY!!!!!!!!

…with a growl that would have enthralled a heavy metal fan.

In my fury I scream at him more senseless threats, raging on in unbridled anger… in a full-throated scream.

But I do not chase after him very far. This is sadly all to familiar to me now. My fury is great.. but my passion burns swiftly. I am able to calm down.

. . .

Much, much worse is the disappointment… the crushing crushing disappointment I feel at the reaction of the people around me I’ve subsequently confided in. Much, much worse is the disgust. The disgust I feel might poison myself and all the poor fools around me. I relate my hot fury and confess that the wretched sense of indignation still lingers as I wish that I had had a way to hurt the offender. To grab him by the hair and cruelly plunge his weasel face into a boiling pot of his own putrid cowardice…

 

By one guy I’ve been told that I’m overreacting to the catcalls on the streets. Maybe I should be flattered. He said.

If disappointment could burn………

To another male friend I said I wanted to learn to defend myself.

He told me to get a longer skirt.

 

I am now sitting in front of my computer, seemingly calm.

I am NOT calm.

I AM NOT CALM.

originally written : Nisan 2014 / April 2014 / İstanbul, Turkey

Surf Lesson One

I listen for my cues as I propel forward, paddling left, right, left, right, scooping the cool seawater back as hard as I can, pulling my chest and shoulders up away from the bright yellow board to save from swaying it side to side, locking my eyes onto the white sandy shore ahead, blinking away the salt and the sting, my feet are propped up onto my toes, perched together near the tail of the surfboard, ready, ready, ready! to push up and slide into takeoff position. I am doing everything perfectly. I zealously match and perform the instructor’s every instruction, eager, as always, to excel! My brain runs in triple speed to make sure the entire body is operating in precision, operating to command.

“PUSH!”

Instantly I fold in my arms, planting my hands by my ribs, then pushing up against the board, I lift myself swiftly, but smoothly, keeping the board, and myself, steady on the water as we rush onward.

“UP!”

I tuck my legs under me, quick, but careful to place them just like I’d practiced, along the imaginary center line, feet pointing sideways, in a wide stance, more load on my left foot in front. Sensing my upper body tensing, I command it to relax as I ease up slowly, slowly up onto soft and bendy knees, shifting my weight so that I am leaning imperceptibly more forward than back, my right foot favoring its inside edge, my right knee leaning inward, I drop my shoulders down and forward to further loosen up my arms and torso, and to further lower my center of gravity, and… slowly… deliberately… purposefully…  I rise.

The board is tipping and bucking beneath my feet, but I am standing and I am traveling forward.

 

I’m surfing…!!!

 

* * *

 

surf layout 3
Busan, South Korea

le samedi 06 août 2016 / Busan, South Korea

 

 

Kali Combative Sparring

We put on the sparring gear—all of it: brightly colored bulky coats covered up and down in little spongy blocks, black utility fasteners in the back, the clunky helmet contraptions, and slippery, smelly arm guards strapped to our forearms.

We look like Lego samurai, we look like pixelated, primary-color, video game characters from the 90s, we look like thug crayons that escaped from the crayon box and got jacked up on crayon steroids.

The arm guards are just two chunky slabs of stinky sweaty padding, Velcro-ed to each arm, covering and confining them from above the elbow down to my fingers, padding the vulnerable back of my hand, but leaving the sides lamentably exposed, and rendering my fist dull and slow to move. And the Darth Vader headgear…. Oi… that thing is a menace. None of us like to spar with that thing pressing down on the tops of our skulls and down on either shoulder, all but refusing to move with the head, obscuring not only our peripheral vision, but basically all our vision, its thick metal bars running across our eyes. And for me, the helmet is also just too big. It is so ill-fitting, I have to choose between putting my chin on the chin-rest, but pressing and folding my ears into spaces where ears were not designed to go; or putting my ears rightfully into the ear protectors earholes, but have the chin-rest… rest on my throat. In the end, I compromise—somehow—with my chin on the rest—good—, one ear tightly managed up against the ear pad, not in the earhole—not bad—, and finally, with my right ear folded forward onto itself—not good. I get two out of three into place, but the helmet keeps turning sideways to look to the left.

Still, I have to look ahead, and I have to look sharp. My opponent is surprisingly fast and extremely strong. Twice my size, and with many years of training over me, he is, at first, unwilling to hit such an easy target… but the guro is threatening him, inciting him, yelling at him, NOT to go easy on the girl. “You’re being a jerk! You go easy on her—how will she ever prepare to fight?!”

I have no room nor time to be timid. I have to swing first.

And I have to swing hard.

* * *

At the end of two long bouts of beating, of panting, of thrashing… he starts to grab at my sparring stick. The first time he snatches it, I’m so oblivious, I barely even register why my arm has stuck fast mid-swing. I flounder and flail about frantically, cluelessly, up against him, a pitiful fish flopping and flapping feverishly, uselessly, up against a wall of glass. He has my weapon pinned so perfectly down with his elbow so that I cannot move my arm nor get out of his range. He starts hacking away at my bare hands. I guess I shouldn’t have shucked off the sweaty, cumbersome arm guards after all….

The guro separates us, and starts us up yet again. “Handa… LABAN!

I still have no clue what to do. I just smash away, a blind hurricane motivated by fear and motivated by courage, until—again!—my weapon arm freezes suddenly in place! I cannot budge. Stuck. He whacks away again, beating at on my open flank again, striking at my bare knuckles… OWWW!! I ignore the sharp pain. I ignore the stick, its unrelenting assault. I focus on wrenching my arm out, trying to pull free from his iron grip…  almost..!! ..harder… 

…PULLLLL…!!!!!!

But then, as I finally pry myself away, he grabs my Lego armor and yanks it hard. I roll to the floor.

AH HAH! NOW I KNOW WHAT TO DO—NOW I HAVE IT! I must tackle and attack! My brain shows me what I must do! I must run into that punishing stick, I must dive upon my attacker, and not away! I must forget about the point system, I must grab his armor, I must kick, I must scramble! I will claw, I will wrestle, I will berserk! I must seize back my weapon and continue the fight, no matter how!! No matter the technique, I must attack! I know what to do! I am SO READY!!!!!

 

I sink back into my fight stance, cranking my fist tight around my weapon, fear and courage both gone. This time I am only eager, I am only IMPATIENT!

 

But… Guro does not start the match. It is game over.

“NO!!!!!!!!!! NO! I am SO NOT DONE!!!!”

Guro laughs. “You’re done!”

“NOOOOO!”

“Yes! You fell! It’s Game over.”

 

DAMMIT!

.

.

.

.

.

…………………………………next time . . .

 

injured hands after kali sparring
the aftermath
injured hand kali injury
doctor demands rest…

* * *

Tagalog glossary:

  • guro : teacher
  • handa : ready
  • laban : fight

le dimanche 31 juillet 2016 Gongju, South Korea