Friday, July 16, 2010

When you're breathing music

After just recently finishing reading "This Is Your Brain On Music" by Daniel J. Levitin, I've constantly been fascinated throughout my days by the notion of music, and more generally, sound, irreversibly surrounding us and filling the air in all the spaces we navigate through, and enacting huge impacts on our survival as a species, and our understanding of the places around us. The sound in the air triggers innumerable neurochemical reactions in the brain, on multiple levels, in a dynamic fashion. Music excites our brains electrically. Music makes our brains flutter with connections and transmissions of energy and information.

And then there's THIS article by the BBC that is about sound/music having the very real and dangerous potential to cause your lungs to collapse. Wow:

"It is thought that the intense pulses of low-frequency, high-energy sound causes the lung to rupture because air and tissue respond differently to sound."

Apparently a 23 year old non-smoking man had one of his lungs collapse on him while he was just "standing quietly near to several large loud speakers” at a pop concert.

Now the concept of sound/music permeating the air surrounding us in every space is even more serious when music has the ability to literally take your breath away.

you are truly breathing music, and drowning in music, and receiving music through your skin and your chest and your bones.

Monday, June 28, 2010

this is definitely the word

Jungftak: A Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing on the right side, and the female only one wing on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelit of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly. Each, when alone, had to remain on the ground. (Webster's unabridged dictionary 1943)

Apparently, map and dictionary publishers sometimes include fictional entries as a preemptive strike against competitors who might copy and publish stolen content as their own. A sort of watermark of fabricated information and meanings.

Think about it, for would be copyright infringers these fictional entries are: landmines of the imaginary.

Also: what if the fictional entry enters into usage? Then it no longer becomes fictional...

In dictionaries and encyclopedias these fictional entries are called "mountweazels." On maps they are called "trap streets" and "paper towns."

I found out about "jungftak" because this dude called up a linguistics podcast called "A Way With Words" and confessed that he had been haunted by this one word for DECADES. That is what I'm talking about.

Friday, June 11, 2010

You can laugh with me if you wanna do

Holy shit. Over the course of nearly two and half years I bacame under the impression that Korean pop music videos are largely a let down for me. Until now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

happy to be consumed

A lot of Korean restuarants have signs above their doors displaying happy cartoon versions of the animal that they specialize in serving. Happy cows, happy squids, happy chickens wrestling with happy ginseng roots. It goes beyond animals even. We were driving through this town that is famous for red bean dumplings and the town mascot was a large cartoon statue of a red bean dumpling who was holding a platter with a big smile that was piled high with smaller red bean dumplings. The thing that eats the thing that eats itself and serves itself to be eaten. Perhaps this is to send out a message that the animal (or food object) is happy when it's alive and even happier when it's cooked and chewed and devoured by humans. I saw what I take to be a direct effect of this form of advertising on one of my kindergarten students just a few minutes ago. We were learning about the letter O, and in the coloring and tracing worksheet I gave them, there was a happy cartoon octopus wearing a baseball cap and juggling some oranges for them to color. He colored it all in red and then I heard him say in Korean that it's red because it's a spicy thing to eat, as if it was covered in chili paste. And I realized that not even silly looking cartoon animals are safe from the Korean child's appetite. Nor I guess should they be. Once when I showed a slideshow of cartoon animals I noticed that while looking at every new slide and repeating the English name I said, this one tiny girl in the class would say the animal's name followed by either "gogi" or "guee". Gogi means meat and guee means a form of preparing and cooking the meat in a marinate.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

not seeing Korean weddings

The science research school office worker girl invited me to her wedding last Saturday. I'd heard horrific things about Korean weddings, so I was half excited and half dreading going to it.

It was held at the Sun Town wedding hall in town. It already looked like a madhouse while Lindsey and I were walking up. Luckily I had called Elvis to get some pointers on how to deal with the wedding gift and everything and he ended up waiting in the parking lot for us amidst the crowds. Koreans don't do wedding gifts usually, just cash. 30 thousand won minimum. Although I've heard with the new 50 thousand won bills in circulation, the minimum is soon to raise. Apparently the cash makes the wedding double as a bit of a fundraising event, depending on the wealth of the couple tying the knot I suppose. The cash helps pay for the cost of having the wedding. This idea of fundraising was pretty much the only part of the event I liked. I think big weddings are a total waste of resources for families that aren't wealthy already, and cash seems to be just as impersonal as choosing something off a wedding gift registry at Bed Bath and Beyond, but seems more useful to the couple getting married. And it definitely helps better to counteract the exorbitant cost of having one's sacred union in love made into a massive public spectacle.

Once Elvis led the way for us through the shoving crowds and up the stairs we put our 30 thousand won into an envelope which the wedding hall provides, had Elvis mark it with the appropriate information (since there's multiple weddings going on simultaneously), and gave it to one of the people manning the cash donation desks. Upon giving the money, we each got a ticket for the buffet.

People's attire ran the gamut from formal wear similar to what you would see at weddings in the States to traditional Korean hanboks to just a hoodie, sneakers and jeans. It seemed like none of the children were dressed up for the occasion. I also liked that part of the wedding.

There were at least three weddings going on simultaneously that day, maybe more, but the mass of people and lack of time made if difficult to tell. I can only imagine what train wrecks transpire in those 5 storey monster wedding halls I've seen in Seoul. And all the people from all the weddings were eating off the same food at the buffet. All things considered the food wasn't that bad, and they had cold king crab legs.

After about 25 minutes or so of sitting awkwardly at the table that my elementary school staff had occupied and not really talking to anyone but Lindsey, I asked her what she thought the bride and groom were doing during the buffet, since it was going on before the wedding and it seemed like it was taking the place of the wedding reception, since there wasn't going to be any social event after the ceremony.

Finally, Elvis got my attention and asked if we wanted to go view the ceremony. All the teachers left at the table and Lindsey and I got up and followed him up the stairs to the room where the ceremony was happening and I saw the bride standing on the platform with her husband and around 20 other people, posing for a group photo. Elvis said something in Korean to some of the school staff, they all nodded, then he turned to me and told me, with his usual slight half-embarrassed grin, that the ceremony was finished.

Apparently Lindsey and I, along with the entire school staff attending had missed the ceremony because we were eating too long at the buffet. And they didn't seem concerned about it in the least. At least I had an answer to my question about where the bride and groom were while everyone was eating: they were getting married.

Judging from what time it was at that point, the entire ceremony had lasted less than 15 minutes. And they were taking group photos of different combinations of family and friends for around 20 or 30 minutes. They even staged the throwing of the wedding bouquet by choosing which woman was going to catch it, so they could capture the perfect "looking" moment for the photo album to be filled with other documentations of fabricated moments that had never been truly lived, from an event that had hardly even taken place, past the appearance of it. Everyone spilled outside, past the display of a long row of identical rental bridal gowns, and into the parking lot, and then we all dispersed and went home, all in just under an hour. I remember feeling like I'd been spit out of a tube of some sort, not even really sure what kind of event I'd witnessed (or not witnessed, for that matter). I asked where they were going for their honeymoon and only one person present seemed to know that they were going to Jeju Island. A teacher asked why they weren't going abroad, and another teacher gestured a hand across her belly and said it was because the bride was so pregnant.

It dawned on me that many Koreans are satisfied with having the "appearance" of having a wedding ceremony and having the images of having a wedding ceremony, and seemingly unconcerned with the emotional value and actual quality of the content of the ceremony itself that they actually have. Although, I'm assuming this only applies to the majority of Western style weddings in Korea, which unfortunately is the norm. I've never attended a traditional Korean wedding ceremony, but from what I've read or been told they seem a lot more involved. And some couples have a smaller traditional wedding ceremony after the larger Western one finishes.

I've been reading a lot of Marshal Mcluhan lately and he once defined the word tradition as "the sense of the total past as now." If that is the case, then maybe it makes sense that Korean Western style weddings seem so impersonal and devoid of many of the emotional subtleties and gestures one would expect in a wedding if they grew up in the States. What I mean is that Koreans have borrowed this style of wedding ceremony from the traditions of a different culture that lives across an ocean. Perhaps if they attempted to fill in all those subtleties and parts of the ritual that are missing, the wedding ceremony would seem a lot more phony than it already does, because they would be attempting to live out the sense of a total past that they themselves have never lived. I'm sure it would look just as silly or awkward for an American couple to be sitting on the floor in Korean traditional robes trying to mimic the gestures that take place during a traditional Korean wedding.

The wedding photography really fascinated me as well. Mostly the fact that documenting the event in photographs took a good deal longer than the actual event itself. The girl who was married had even shown me wedding pictures of just her and her husband in wedding outfits that she had had taken a couple of weeks before the wedding. In that case, it would be visual documentation of an event that had not yet even taken place.

More emphasis seemed to be placed on the images of the event than the event itself. They staged the throwing of the bouquet (they had the bride practice a couple of times before they took the final shot), and had groups of extended family and friends posing together with the bride and groom for pictures on the same platform that the marriage had just transpired on. But those groups of friends and family had just been an audience, and it was not a documentation of any interactions they were having or had just had with the newly married couple. In other words, the photograph was their interaction, by being the catalyst for them all to be standing next to each other, and at the same time, acting as a documentation for their togetherness. Yet, due to the sheer brevity of that wedding, it's very possible that had those people not been urged to stand close together for the group photo, they never would have interacted that much in the first place.

Wedding photography in the States displays many of the same oddities, just to different degrees. I've seen wedding photographs of the wedding ring on the bride's finger and wondered why they didn't just use the magazine advertisement image of the ring for their wedding album. I've never understood why so many people are happy with their wedding photographs looking like staged commercial advertisements for an idealized wedding which didn't actually happen in real life. It may be the fault of the education system, which is not required to make people fully image-literate that partly causes this general lack of concern about the way images represent them.

A good analogy would be to imagine a couple who is getting married and is really into reading books a lot more than photography, so they decide to have one of their professional writer friends create a written description of their wedding instead of hiring any photographers. But then their friend shows up two weeks before the wedding is going to take place and hands them the finished work. When the couple asks how that's possible, the friend says that he simply observed one of the rehearsals, and decided to adapt that to a description of the most ideal wedding they could ever possibly have in real life, with all the bells and whistles, so when they look back on it, it'll always be perfect. Of course the couple would be offended by such a gesture because it seems almost psychotic to have a mostly fictional written description of their own wedding for posterity. But on the other hand, most people will not even bat an eye at a set of obviously staged or exaggerated photographs that show idealized moments that function more like a series of wedding cliches than actual wedding moments. Many people will not think twice about having fictional photographs, because images don't have to represent the same continuous and consistent idea of reality as the written word does. Even a wedding videographer would have to be much more casual and unedited in his or her approach than a wedding photographer. Viewing a staged or overly exaggerated video of one's wedding will come across as fabricated and uncomfortable as a fictional account of it in text.

Monday, May 3, 2010

new personal information gathering centers

I'd never heard of facebook until I arrived in Korea.

There's a really interesting thing that happens with facebook when used by people who are socially connected while living abroad: a lot of people connect socially more on facebook than in real life. In fact I've been asked before why I didn't come out some night, and after I explain that I was never invited I'm asked, "Didn't you see my facebook status?" Then I learned that it was completely normal for a night out to be planned and executed without even a single text message, email, or phone call. And it's actually pretty common. Someone I met here once told me that they hated emails because they take "way too much commitment."

What interests me is how does this affect the essential nature of real life conversation? I don't really know that answer, but I have made some observations about how real life conversation is unavoidably altered. Sometimes I meet people in neighboring cities or provinces in the country who are facebook friends with people from where I live. When those people come to visit, or I just happen to meet them in non-virtual life, I find that they know incidental things about me that I have never told them. I've never told them because I've never known them. So when my first conversation with them occurs it is unquestionably different from a conversation I would normally have with someone who I have just met for the first time.

I'm really curious about how this is going to affect the nature of conversation of future generations. If most of your information about someone has already been gathered from an online source (social networking sites, blogs, websites, etc.), than what are people really going to talk about? I think our generation is still not fully comfortable with this new form of personal information gathering (i.e. it feels a bit too much like our now probably antiquated definition of stalking), but as future generations grow up with this technology, they will most likely lose or never have the discomfort that exists now.

Here's two examples of mechanisms I've observed people utilize to defend themselves and others from the discomfort that can follow someone's realization that they've been the victim of online personal information reconnaissance missions. Both of these mechanisms demonstrate that people still feel like it's much more natural for people to find out personal information about others in person:

1. the confirmation: when you meet someone for the first time and they know certain information about you, they'll usually bring it up in conversation as a sort of confirmation: "And you just got back from vacation in Thailand, right? Those were some amazing pictures you posted!" Of course this fact doesn't need to be confirmed, because both parties already know it's true: the person that went to Thailand knows they just returned from there and posted the pictures, and the person confirming has already seen them. But, it seems like when it's brought up into a real, non-virtual conversation, it makes it less strange that a person you've never met before knows sometimtes intimate details about you. Once they've confirmed the information in a real conversation, the information is freed into real life, in a way. And then if the person mentions it later, out of the blue, you won't be that weirded out, because by confirming a piece of information, it was almost like you told them in the first place. Something that scares me is if this trend persists, what proportion of conversations will just be a series of confirmations of things that are already known by both people involved?

2. the confession: Another mechanism I've heard used a lot is someone just coming out and confessing that they've been stalking people online. It's usually said as a joke (although I can't think of any reason why it would be taken as funny), and other people usually laugh after it's said, although I assume only because they don't really know that the fuck else to do. Example of the two machanisms used conseculatively: "And you just got back from vacation in Thailand, right? Those were some amazing pictures you posted! Sorry, I was bored at work so I was online facebook stalking all day." For some reason, this is not a creepy thing to say to someone in our culture, I assume only because facebook exists and so many people are "facebook stalking" themselves. But people obviously still feel guilty enough for it that they need to confess, even if in a half-joking manner, that they've done something that can be construed as wrong or unnatural, and that they know personal information about people, even though they've not had any real, non-virtual contact with them.

The most expensive photograph in the world

Here's a list of the world's most expensive photographs

99 Cent II Diptychon by Andreas Gursky
The photograph sold for $3,346,456 in February 2007 at an auction at Sotheby's London.

I've been thinking a lot lately about this stunning irony: The current most expensive photograph in the world is an image depicting some of the cheapest goods a city has to offer (the interior of a 99 cent store). This demonstrates an extreme disconnect between a photograph and its image content. The world of photographs as objects for fine art investments of millionaires and the world of photographs as a visual means of expression and communication are perhaps farther apart than they have ever been since the invention of photography.

Another way to put would be: count every single product shown in Gursky's diptych and estimate a dollar value if you were to purchase everything in the store. Then add that value of all the products to what it would cost to purchase the entire 99 cent store building, along with the land that it sits on. It's entirely possible and very likely that it would cost MORE to purchase one photograph of the store's interior than to buy the entire store and all of its contents.

And even another way to understand this photograph is to consider how many people on the planet currently live on less than a dollar a day and then consider the products in the store in relation to that fact. Currently about 1/5 of the Earth's population, or 1.1 billion people, live on less than one dollar a day. In that sense, how many full days of work would it take to purchase every product in the store? For over a billion people in the world, all of the cheap products shown in that photograph would resemble objects of inaccessible wealth in colorful packaging, each one requiring a tremendous or even impossible amount of sacrifice and labor to acquire. And the photograph of these objects? It translates to at least 3,346,456 full days of work, as long as someone could save every penny they ever earned.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

legally mandated visual representations of your insides

According to some new legislation that has just been enacted in Oklahoma, before a woman has an abortion within the state limits, she is obligated by law to have an ultrasound and listen to a doctor give her a description of the fetus inside of her. The massive implication of this to me is how much power and influence images and visual representation are assumed to have on the general public, and how a bible belt government would use this assumption to legally mandate an all out visual-audio assault on women to deter a medical procedure that is in itself, perfectly legal. If a woman closes her eyes and covers her ears during the ultrasound screening and verbal description given by her doctor, is the abortion still legal? Or are they going to put in place some Clockwork Orange headgear, blocking the women from closing their eyes while they stare at the visual representation of the organism moving around inside them? And what about a blind and deaf mother, do they just slip through some loophole, or will they still be forced to have an audio description of a visual representation of their fetus translated to them in morse code taps on their skin? That is such a wild concept, that the state passed a law which makes it mandatory for women to view visual representations of inside their bodies, and listen to another person give an oral description about their insides as well.

This could be an interesting trend, though, if the same type of legally mandated viewing of visual representations is applied to other areas of law. Maybe before a bank forecloses on a house and evicts its occupants, the bank worker who would sign the official paperwork could be legally obligated to sit and watch a screening of the family's home video archive or photo album and hear stories about their lives before that bank employee could legally ask them to leave their home.

Or before a soldier is sent into a combat zone, there has to be a photo or video reconaissance mission, afterwhich the soldiers will view visual and audio footage of a sample of the civilians living in that area, and hear stories about their day to day lives.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

365 with a vein of gold

new mix:

365 with a vein of gold

get it here

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

literate visual fragmented freedom

Perhaps the quote of the month (at first it read to me like an indecipherable mis-translation from an online translator):

"Eating people is wrong. Even grafting people into the ulcer of a big corporation seems wrong to anybody brought up in a literate visual fragmented freedom." --Marshall McLuhan

Friday, April 9, 2010

The truth of a place

I've been reading this autobiography of Prince Modupe a little bit recently. He was this West African, born into a tribe, and then ended up crossing an ocean and landing in America. He writes about his experience and the the polarities between vastly disparate modes of thought and perception he encountered. The part that really got me was when he was describing how his father (still leading the tribal life) felt about maps and what they represented:

"Maps are liars, he told me briefly. The things that hurt one do not show on a map. The truth of a place is in the joy and the hurt that come from it."

Monday, March 29, 2010


It was photography which showed that the bird flies because of the stillness of its wings, not its movements.

the oldest living things on the planet

A project by Rachel's a link to more images from this project.

Man, I would be ecstatic if I could go to all these places.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tasting the light creeping through windows

Here's the first volume of the companion mixes (I was going for a couple of low-key mixes perfect for editing and sequencing photos):

Tasting the light creeping through windows

get it:

Licking the memories creeping through light

Here's the second volume from the companion mixes:

Licking the memories creeping through light

get it:

Bold commitment of sentiment

So I've been seriously lagging on posts. The new semester started, and my classes are spaced out in a wack way, so I have a bunch of short gaps between lessons instead of the usual larger chunks of free time. And everyone knows how that goes: if you have a long break where you're at work and still being paid you need at least half an hour or longer of vegetation time, and then you can start being productive...but if you only have 45 min. or an hour, by the time vegetation time is over, it's already class time and next to nothing has been accomplished.

In any case, so I'm upping three new mixes. Two of them are companion volumes, which can be ascertained by how their names relate to one another.

This first one is titled:

Bold commitment of sentiment

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

1.26 microseconds went somewhere with Chile

Scientists are saying that the earthquake in Chile was so powerful that it slightly shifted the Earth's axis and shortened the length of each day by 1.26 microseconds. So it seems like whether we like it or not, everyone is losing a little bit of sleep over it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

combined operation and my second kid

When you climb to one of the peaks of Taebaek mountain you reach an area with trapezoidal stone-stacked altars where shamans still worship the sky and ring bell drums and chant and hold various animistic beliefs. When you look over the landscape you can see the military base and airstrip and sometimes hear the sounds from the bombs and weapons proving ground there. It really adds a level of interest to the landscape, as you scan it and realize it's punctuated by a mix of abandoned and still functioning coal mines, rivers, two thousand year old trees, a military base and weapons testing area, buddhist temples and shaman altars.

We ended up having some beers with a couple of US airforce dudes the other night who crashed our table at the bar along with a couple of Korean special forces soldiers. They were doing a "combined operation" for a few days at that military base. The quote of the evening must have been when one of the airforce guys was praising the great health care that the military provided him:

"Especially fuckin' second I didn't have to pay shit for him!"

When he said that it really made me feel like there was something entirely different going on in his mind than there was in mine.

If filmmakers directed the superbowl

The Wes Anderson one is so true to form it's hilarious.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Place Is Collapsible

I'm working on a new project with Stefani that involves diptychs in the most random, regenerative, and expansive sense of the word:

Place Is Collapsible


Here's some of my current favorite combinations:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

inna single instant

inna single instant mix:

part 1
part 2

This one is a real treat, I think. It starts out with blind blues singer Paul Pena who won a throat singing contest in Tuva at one point in his life (check out one of my all time favorite documentaries Genghis Blues). Then there's some Malay pop and Thai pop and K-pop, French new wave, Korean disco, guitar music from the western Sahara, Congolese gospel funk, some New Orleans funky R&B, Bollywood steel guitar, a Joy Division cover in bossa nova style, some newer electronic cuts along the way, and of course a brief dose of blow-your-mind-apart Brazilian mellow earthy psychedelic rock, not to mention Thomas Mapfumo "The Lion of Zimbabwe", got him on there too.

Been really feeling the new Four Tet album. It really takes me back to some of his stuff with Fridge, kind of like a way more mature and refined working of some of those same ideas. Quite beautiful from start to finish.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day eight to eleven

On Saturday we flew into Kota Kinabalu and it was raining. And it rained all day and night and the weather report said it could potentially rain for the next 10 days in a row. Out of the desire to insulate ourselves against steadily forming premature depression over the state of the weather, Lindsey and I purchased one bottle of spiced rum and a bottle of vanilla coke and retreated into the depths of our tropical bird themed hotel room with HBO and the colored light reflections bouncing around the window from passing by cars. It stopped raining the next day.

On Sunday we checked out the bustling street market on the same street as our hotel. It was filled with strange fruit usually piled in bright colored plastic baskets or cardboard boxes covered with wet spots soaking through. There was also the standard cheap souvenir shit, as well as live birds, fish and furry animals in cages and aquariums, kept in pitiful states of confinement and filth. There was one old man who was sitting in the street with some foot and a half long dead slimy lizard or salamander creature with an oversized tail laid out on a plate in front of him. It looked like a miniature version of some lost prehistoric creature, and there was an old yellowed scrap of a newspaper story held in place under the plate with a picture of the same creature. I couldn't tell what it was, but it seemed like he was selling the extract of that creature to ingest for health reasons of some sort. If it was Korea it would most definitely be sold for the purposes of male stamina in the sack, but I didn't know what was big in Borneo in terms of folk apothecaries. The highlight for me was this group of 3 guys rocking out with an old cheap casio synthesizer like I had when I was eight or nine. They had one of those simple cheeseball pre-programmed tropical rhythms playing and filled in the gaps with a guitar and some mishmash percussion instruments and one of the old guys was singing almost incomprehensibly into a scratchy mic. I could have listened to that music all day. When people don't focus on the deficiencies and limitations of their instruments and just let loose, it usually sounds better then anything made with large production budgets. We walked up Signal Hill and heard a massive beastly dog barking at us behind a fence on a narrow steep residential street. As we took a couple of steps closer we noticed that the dog was only behind the fence voluntarily, and started chasing us down the hill at full speed. I banked on the assumption that it was trained to just guard its territory and wouldn't attack so I told Lindsey not to run and just walk slowly away with me. It got pretty close to nipping at our heels, sensing our fear like a shark, but it refrained from attacking as it noticed that we were moving away the house it was guarding.

On Monday we went on a boat cruise down a river, on safari for those bignose proboscis monkeys found only in Borneo. We saw them. Only the males have big noses. Then Pat's plane landed later that night. Knowing his lighthearted yet severe distaste for "America's hat", I made a sign that said "Canada Forever!" and Lindsey made one that said "Canucks Rule!". We held it out next to all the Korean tour guides waiting to pick up their crop. The Zimbabwe sign I made in Bangkok worked better last summer I think.

On Tuesday we ate two breakfasts, which was excessive, but less excessive than the three dinners Lindsey and I ate in Kuala Lumpur. First breakfast: Chinese bbq pork steamed buns. Second breakfast: Chinese bbq pork noodles. In the afternoon we hired a private boat to take us to three islands off the coast and to check out the Filipino stilt village. The islands were idyllic. The beaches were idyllic. The ocean was idyllic. On the first beach I took a walk and found two Malay workmen standing watching a giant bearded boar tear apart a fallen coconut to eat.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This toast-making instrument

One day I was sitting at Elvis' apartment after dinner. He was sitting next to me at the table silently, suddenly with a look of deep concentration. This usually happens when he is trying to express something complicated for him in English. He turned to me while pointing to the toaster and asked "What is the English name of this toast-making instrument?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day one to seven

Lindsey's memory list of our vacation. Day 1 is actually day 2, since day 1 our flight landed in the evening and we didn't do anything but have dinner really.

day 1, disaster walk
day 2, bird park
day 3, towers, caves, fireflies
day 4, melaka
day 5, bed and breakfast
day 6, off to KK
day 7, gaya market, signal hill, explore KK
day 8, monkey cruise
that's right
day 9, tuesday, explore, islands
day 10, kuching, walk around
day 11, kayaking
day 12, ummm....
me: bako
lindsey: thank you
day 13, late start, drive to sibu
day 14, drive to bintulu, almost die
day 15, bintulu, similajau
day 16, drive to miri
day 17, drive to brunei, water village
oh yeah, day 16 had limbang hills, too
day 18, cross all the borders, end up back in KK
day 19, shopping in KK, return the car
come home

This is my attempt to condense my travels in Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo, and Brunei into the shortest amount of text possible. I want to see if I can remember what happened everyday and decide what is important to describe and what is important to omit.

total stamps on passport: 16
total images recorded: circa 14,000
total miles driven across the island of Borneo: around 1100
total trips to hospital emergency rooms: one

Day one to day seven:

Our flight landed in Kuala Lumpur in the evening and we jumped on the express train to the central city. Palm oil plantations stretched out to the horizon everywhere, housing complexes and other types of developments were extreme, the air was wet and thick, some of the soil was reddish, the sky looked and felt like it weighed a million tons and everything was green and lush and constantly growing and always warm. We stayed at Hotel Citrus, of course.

Kuala Lumpur was the most relaxed capital city I've been to in Southeast Asia so far, except for the gaping holes in the sidewalks and the inability to really walk anywhere in the city of considerable distance without crisscrossing or walking on highways. It became clear that Malaysia was a country of immigrants, which brought me back to a lot of areas in L.A. There was a heavy Chinese and Indian influence apparent throughout all the areas of the city we visited. Many restaurants serving Malay and Chinese style food also had a clay oven to make Indian bread on the side, which I thought was especially genius. We had trouble finding traditional Malaysian food for a while, and we wanted to eat Laksa, which is a national dish of Malaysia but couldn't find it anywhere for a while. Every place that had it said they were out of it when we asked. We thought that was bizarre, but then we found out later that it was a dish prepared only for breakfast, and we were always too late in the day.

The second day we tried to walk to the point of convergence of two muddy rivers that represented the center of the city geographically and symbolically, as well as the meaning of the name of the capital (Kuala Lumpur = muddy confluence of rivers). We became distinctly lost and our way was constantly blocked by highways and overpasses which obliterated any sidewalk we were on abruptly. It started to rain so we found a taxi to take us the rest of the way. He was amused at how far we'd walked out of the way from where we had wanted to go. We found out later that my compass had somehow reversed itself, so north was south and east was west. Lindsey searched on the internet how that could even conceivably happen, and I still have no idea. Maybe it was all the airport xrays? For lunch that day we went to an Indian restaurant near the confluence where everyone was eating with their hands, soaking up and scooping up bits of extra-thick curry with a small bit of rice with their fingers. I ordered a banana leaf lunch which was a giant banana leaf laid out on the table with an array of small piles of various curries and spiced and pickled vegetables. Not sure where that lunch has been all my life, but it should have been there far sooner, and I only wish it was available where I live. I saw this younger Malaysian dude selling fruit and wearing a "Napalm Death" T-shirt. I haven't thought about that band since just after high school probably, when I was still heavily into death metal and similar music, but I never thought about it in a Southeast Asian context. Although Malaysia never had the napalm problems of further north in Vietnam, it still seemed like the meaning of that shirt was just a little too close to home in that region; and I wondered if the guy wearing the shirt had ever thought about what the name of the band was actually referring to.

The next day we went to the lake gardens and saw the bird park and butterfly gardens and the beautiful landscaped grounds. If there was ever a region of the world for parks it's the tropical regions. So many fascinating native plants and flowers that just grow there anyway, with next to zero maintainance. Incredible. On the way there we had the most racist taxi driver I've had to date. He told us some of the inequalities he faced as a Hindu Indian living in an Islamic country. Those that can give a muslim greeting to the police don't get fines, those of other religions do. Basically the point he reiterated the most was "Don't take muslims taxi!" Although he was nut ball over the top and pretty much a loose cannon I felt fortunate to get a glimpse into that side of the culture. I think it's important to really see the dirt and filth of a place and its people to get a good feel for it.

On Wednesday we hired a private taxi who would take us to see the fireflies two hours north of Kuala Lumpur along a small river in Selangor province. We didn't leave with him until the afternoon so we checked out the KL tower and the Petronas tower and the large mall near there beforehand. As we approached the taxi stand to go back to the hotel I noticed our driver had a crazy long beard that went down to his waist, which was strange because he was pretty young. When he got into the car he put his fake beard onto the seat next to him. I just had to ask why he carried around a long fake beard, and he just said it was some fake hair that a woman and her baby left in the cab that day. Weird. Batu Caves, the tranquil Hindu cave temple, was under construction, and you had to narrowly avoid large caterpillars on your way up. Monkey's lined the stairway, jumping along the fence and occasionally stopping for a lightning quick fuck. There were two huge pythons casually lying on a plastic patio table to the right of the entrance that you could pay to have your pictures taken with. There was a sign painted on the cave wall that said "NO STICK" that I still don't understand. There was a lot of water dripping from the ceilings and more long tailed monkeys jumping around, and the place made me feel really happy to be there. Later, after seafood along a river we climbed into a row boat with some unpleasant Australian women and saw fireflies everywhere in the trees lining the river, like constellations and christmas trees, they were so tiny and they blinked so fast and many times and were synchronized. The Australian women kept joking that the blinking was morse code for SOS and "help us!" and whatnot. I kept wishing there was some way they could fall out of the boat without us falling with them.

On Thursday we took a bus to Melaka. Melaka is a town with a deep colonial history. It was founded by a renegade Indian pirate prince, then it was colonized by the Portuegese, Dutch and British. They say there's even some people living there who still speak with a creole Portuegese/Malay language of their own. The architecture ther was interesting, but the sheer extent of new development was unsettling. The laksa in Melaka is supposed to be some of the best in Malaysia, but we couldn't find it. Near dusk mobs and mobs of birds swooped down and filled the trees, power lines, and antennaes and gave of a loud interwoven and chaotic cacaphony of calls that shredded the air wide open and made me feel so excited and extra alive to be there listening to it. Lindsey thought the noise was a little bit awful.

On Friday we just decided to take our time in getting back to Kuala Lumpur since we were flying to Borneo early Saturday. We stayed at a bed and breakfast near the airport. It ended up being owned by this African American retired marine from Washington DC. He married a Malay woman and bought a huge house in a terribly bland looking gated housing development an 8 minute drive from the airport. The guy was sort of a trip because he still held onto the residue and structure from his years in the service, and he ran a tight ship in his house -- when he asked us to "sit down and just relax I'll get your complimentary refreshments" he said it with a certain misplaced urgency that I got the impression we shouldn't be moving or doing anything else but sitting right there. He convinced himself that someone was tailing us while he was driving us to his house from the airport, and he drove past the driveway to his place and down the street until the car behind us stopped. He said his military training died hard. He had everything broken down into neat time increments: 6 minute drive to the nearest restaurant or a 12 minute walk, and an 8 minute drive to and from the airport under ideal conditions. He told us "We'll go ahead and kick off breakfast at oh-seven-hundred...that shouldn't interfere with anyone else's schedule."

Monday, February 1, 2010

way to go mom

My mom recently put up a song she recorded with some of her friends. Gotta say it rocks.

Listen to it here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

off to the muddy confluence

I'm leaving in about 10 minutes to take a train to Seoul and then a plane in the morning to Kuala Lumpur. In Malay, the word means muddy confluence. The city is named after the converging of rivers, so I'm pretty down with that on a purely conceptual basis.

I might not blog till I return in February, so I'm leaving you with a taste of Milton Nascimento, from his album Milagre dos Peixes, which means "The Miracle of the Fishes." There's one mind blowing thing about this album for me: At the time it was recorded Brazil was being governed by the military and censorship was rampant. Being connected with the Tropicalia movement, Milton Nascimento was informed by the government that the lyrics of his album were too controversial and he should change them or not record it or it would be banned. The record company told him to record a new album, and he was like "FUCK that", and just recorded the album without lyrics and used his voice as an instrument instead. The result is pretty awesome. Until I return from the jungle.

milton nascimento - Carlos, Lucia, Chico e Tiago
milton nascimento - Cade
milton nascimento - A Ultima Sessao de Musica
milton nascimento - Pablo

Friday, January 8, 2010

With only a shit-knife in hand

I was watching a video of Wade Davis speaking about the tragedy of disintegrating tribal cultures around the world, and he recounted a handful of stories he picked up while living with various tribes over the years. I have to retell this one story he told, even if badly, just because I've never heard anything like it, and it's something you could never make up if you tried.

In a remote area of Canada a while back there was a family of Inuits that were told by the Canadian government that their land was being repossessed for some bullshit reason or another. Everyone was packing, but the old grandfather said he was holding his ground, and not moving off his land. The rest of his family was really worried about him because he might be killed or jailed by the Canadian government. But since they couldn't force him to go with them against his will either, they just decided to take all of his weapons and belongings away, so that he could have them back as long as he followed the rest of his family. Undeterred, the old man walked outside into the arctic cold, pulled down his pants and began shitting into his hand. While the shit immediately started to freeze, he molded it into a makeshift knife. He then sprayed his saliva all along one edge of the knife to make a sharp edge of ice. Then he took his shit knife and slaughtered a nearby dog. He took the dog's rib cage and various other parts and fashioned a makeshift sled. Then he strapped the sled up to another nearby dog that was still alive and disappeared into the distance where no one saw him again.

This is a link his full lecture, if you're interested.

some-formed uttering triangles, really

In the process of speaking, the average human utters 6 metaphors a minute.

Metaphors are synaesthetic re-combines of ideas if you think about it. Like triangles -- giving a thing a name that belongs to another thing to produce a more vivid understanding of both things, and itself.

I think metaphors are also rooted in misrecognition, as when you see shapes and things in shadows or on rockfaces, or mis-hear words, or recall things from things that aren't there: invented nostalgia from nonexistent memories.

Quite an exquisite location

I was watching this thing on Roni Horn and she was talking about an 8x8 grid (like a chess board) of black and white photographs she made about the architecture of a locker room area of a swimming pool. She described the architecture: "It was like a mathematical equation punctuated by a sexual act."

I also started listening really intently when she started talking about the mysterious nature of the Arctic Circle and like "places." You can find the Arctic Circle on the map all around the world. So it is visible on maps and people talk about it and talk about going there. So it has all the characteristics of a real place, yet it is entirely invisible. Except in concept and geographical diagrams, it doesn't exist.

Photographing the invisible...invisible landscapes.

As for music, you should now notice a gray and white play button on the lower left of the a new playlist player going so I can select the top 5 tracks from each mix I put up, especially for your fat faces and hungry ears, if need be. The cool thing is that the playlist will compile and compile as long as I add to this page, so selections from various mixes will organically reorder and recombine into a new mix altogether.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To shake together

Cogito = I think.

The etymology of cogito is Latin co-agitare, to shake together. I love these beautiful accidents of etymology.

Or were these verbs intended to be linked? The act of thinking is to shake together.

As for Descartes: I shake together, therefore I am.

Forgot one

Forgot one Porchia quote that really haunts me. It really has a lot to do with art and science:

"We tear life out of life and use it for looking at itself." -Antonio Porchia

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Antonio Porchia

I can't seem to ever get this quote out of my head:

"Everything is like the rivers -- the work of the slopes." -Antonio Porchia

Actually if I think about it there's always a handful:

"Nothing that is complete breathes."

"We are chained to the world to pay for the freedom of our eyes."

"The cold is a good counselor
but it is cold."

"I too once had a summer
and I burned myself in its name."

Giraffes are giraffing and people are peopling

New mix: Giraffes are giraffing and people are peopling

part 1
part 2

Loving that song by The Go-Betweens Too Much Of One Thing:

"nothing in these days is constant, come home to chance"

I was listening to a podcast by Alan Watts and he was going off on the restraints of language. He said that many Eastern languages don't have such a strong distinction between parts of speech, such as nouns and verbs. Even in Korean, there's so many nouns and verbs that are the same word, and you can turn most nouns into a verb by just altering the ending slightly (by adding the "to do" verb stem).

In fact, he said that in the overall recorded history of languages, Western languages probably maintain a thin minority in the way that its speakers create and forge brutal divisions between grammatical structures. This unnecessary categorization of language into isolated parts (such as nouns and verbs, where some words are strictly "agents" and others are strictly "operators"), introduces a multitude of limitations on the way we can use language.

What he suggests, and what I have to strongly agree with, is the notion of how free-flowing and limitless language could be once these restraints are taken off it. He imagines a world where "Giraffes are giraffing, trees are treeing, stars are starring, clouds are clouding, rain is raining, and people are peopling."

And yet as much as I support this idea, so many times I feel like if I don't place a set of arbitrary constraints on myself for a particular art project, I feel so listless and unable to produce anything at all. Weird.

I have some unavoidable reasons.

I received a birthday text from my friend Mark in town. After the happy birthday part he said "how bout make a chance to see after 10th. i have some unavoidable reasons." I'm still unclear if he means he has some unavoidable reasons to see me after the 10th, or if he has unavoidable reasons of why he can't see me until that time. But the text sounds cryptic and severe for some reason whatever the case may be.

But in any case, my twenties are now officially buried and no more. I am now in my thirties.

Walking cemeteries

I found out that a great majority of nurses in rural areas in South Korea know how to say the word "push" in a variety of Southeast Asian languages. Since most females of marrying age move to the cities so they can attend universities and find careers the men who stay sometimes don't have any option but to search abroad for companionship. I once saw this large banner on the outside of an apartment building that translated something like "virgin maiden Vietnamese bride" above a phone number. I don't think I translated it exactly right, but the idea was there. The problem is that Korea is far from being a country of immigrants, and with even less foreigners living in rural areas, there's not much available in the way of Korean language classes for the immigrants that do end up here. So the Southeast Asian brides looming about might not learn some essential vocab before babies start popping out of their bodies.

Something else entirely unrelated: I just finished reading this book called "The Chronicles of the Guayaki Indians" by Pierre Clastres. It's by far one of the saddest and simultaneously beautiful stories I've yet had a chance to read. The author is an anthropologist who lived with the tribe for a year. But he writes with a poetry and compassion that is so intense, especially when he tackles their ritual practices of infanticide and cannibalism. The tribe's entire population dropped by about 25% in the time that he was there, and within a short time after the entire tribe ceased to exist. Their language, culture, myths, and rituals pretty much died with them.

All the people in the tribe were "passionate cannibals", but they never killed people for the purpose of food or sacrifice. They ate their dead. Every member of their tribe who died, they ate every part of. This was as much for the practical nutritional purpose of not wasting food products, as it was for their religious purposes. In their tribe, the myths behind rituals ran parallel and fed into all of the practical reasons for them. The two were inseparable in a way. In this case, the tribe ate their dead to make certain that their souls would not come back to kill them. They needed to devour their bodies to keep the deceased people's souls in the world of the dead and out of the world of the living. In this way, the entire tribe became walking cemeteries and supreme masters of recycling, since the consumption of each dead person was the burial and the feast at the same time.