Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wadda Wonderful World

At the moment I'm working on putting together my deep thoughts for another post. To tide you over until then, I wanted to post something I got off of my good friend's blog.

One of my favourite books when I was a kid was a THICK paperback filled with single page non-fiction articles ranging from the fabled city of Atlantis to how to make an Egyptian mummy. The Kid's Know-Power Book consumed many of my childhood hours, giving me fun facts to ponder over the rest of my life. One of those articles had to do with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. These were really inspiring to me and I was humbled to see the only surviving wonder when I visitied the Pyramids outside of Cairo in the summer of 2004. (Fun Fact:The area covered by the Great pyramid can accommodate St Peter's in Rome, the cathedrals of Florence and Milan, and Westminster and St Paul's in London combined.)

What about the others you wonder? Where did they go? What happened? Well wonder no more dear Danifesto reader! Via Wikipedia, here is a list of each wonder, when it was built, who built it, notable features and when and how it was destroyed:
Great Pyramid of Giza, 2650-2500 BC, Egyptians
Built as the tomb of Fourth dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu.
Still standing
Hanging Gardens of Babylon,600 BC,Babylonians
Herodotus claimed the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high (although some archaeological findings suggest otherwise).
After 1st century BC,

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, 550 BC, Lydians, Persians, Greeks
Dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, it took 120 years to build. Herostratus burned it down in an attempt to achieve lasting fame.
356 BC,

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, 435 BC, Greeks
Occupied the whole width of the aisle of the temple that was built to house it, and was 40 feet (12 meters) tall.
5th-6th centuries AD,

Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, 351 BC, Persians, Greeks
Stood approximately 45 meters (135 feet) tall with each of the four sides adorned with sculptural reliefs. Origin of the word mausoleum.
by AD 1494,

Colossus of Rhodes, 292-280 BC, Hellenistic Greece
A giant statue of the Greek god Helios roughly the same size as today's Statue of Liberty in New York.
224 BC,

Lighthouse of Alexandria, 3rd century BC, Hellenistic Egypt
Between 115 and 135 metres (383 - 440 ft) tall it was among the tallest man-made structures on Earth for many centuries.
AD 1303-1480,
(For those of you keeping score, that's four from earthquakes and two from fire!)

My friend's recent blog post alerted me to recent efforts to designate Seven NEW Wonders of the World. So I went there to look at the choices and cast my vote.

I must say this was pretty cool and it was hard to decide what to vote for and what to leave out. Plus out of the twenty-one nominated places, I had personally been to five! Not too shabby for a boy from Kansas!

To help my decision making, I decided to first eliminate everything that was too modern because really, they haven't stood the test of time. So that cut out the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House, the Christ Redeemer and the Statue of Liberty. Then I voted for the Pyramids first. I feel it's only fair because they were among the original wonders. (It's interesting to note that Egypt feels that the Pyramids shouldn't even have to compete with the other wonders nominated!)

My next votes were for buildings that are widely considered the most beautiful in the world. So with this mind, I voted for the Taj Mahal and the Hagia Sophia. I've toured the Hagia Sophia and to this day I'm still in awe of how beautiful the huge mosaics were! I have a couple of friends that have been to the Taj Mahal and they say it is even more beautiful than the pictures!

That left me with four votes. I just had to include the Great Wall of China. I've climbed it with my cool cousin (who can forget those uneven, irregular, worn steps?) and it is an incredible feat of human accomplishment. Plus it has been said that it's the only man-made object visible from outer space (although this is disputed) so I think that makes it pretty "wonder-worthy."

I then realized while I had voted for wonders in Asia, Europe and Africa, there was nothing from the New World. That led me to vote for Chichen Itza and Machu Pichu. These both have the monolithic traits that I feel the Wonders of the World should have. Chichen Itza is far more complex than the Pyramids and I've heard that you can see a shadow of a snake creep up the side of it. I like how Machu Pichu was a select city for nobility up amongst the clouds. From what I've been told, this looks amazing! (Fun Fact: Machu Picchu recently appeared in advertisements by Royal Nepal Airlines encouraging tourism to Nepal. A Peruvian mountaineer apparently noticed the advertisement while visiting India and alerted Peruvian authorities. Royal Nepal Airlines has apologised to Peru and has apparently corrected the error!)

My final vote was really hard. I really wanted to vote for Petra because it's so amazing and the incredible Angkor Wat was also a strong contender. However I ended up casting my vote for the Easter Island statues because they have the same sense of mystery and awe that the Pyramids hold. It is my hope that some day I can travel to the majority of these wonders before I die or earthquakes, war or fire destroy them!

How would you have voted? Feel free to comment and/or go and cast your own vote!

Dance Naked! (But Only If You Want To...)

As I've posted before, my partner and I have been frequenting the local YMCA. I'm pleased to report that, not only is this still ongoing, but there have been gains, both physically and personally. I have learned some valuable lessons as well.

First, those weight machines are adjustable for the vertically-challenged! Good to know! It really does make a world of difference when one's feet can touch the floor!

Second, the right kind of music is essential to making the time fly by (Who knew that "Material Girl" and "Go West" would rock out so well?) (And while I'm on the subject- I feel the need to mention that this year's "must-have accessory" for the gym is an MP3 player. It pains me when I see some poor guy stopping on his treadmill to change CDs!)

Third, if your body happens to make a noise as the natural result of clenching and straining, denial is a completely acceptable response. Not only is a verbal apology to the room unnecessary but the confirmation of our suspicions makes it worse!

The hardest lesson I've been learning is how to be comfortable without clothes.

There is this episode of Sex in the City where Charlotte confronts the exact same issue. Embarrassed about her body, she can't disrobe in front of all the women in the steamroom. The girls take off their towels, except for Charlotte, who tells them it is too hot and she isn't comfortable, and she leaves. Carrie follows Charlotte out and asks her what's wrong.
Charlotte: I didn't grow up in a naked house!
Carrie: Well I didn't either.
Charlotte: [nodding at a naked woman behind them] I bet she grew up in a naked house.
Carrie: She might still live in a naked house! (source)

Like Charlotte, I didn't grow up in a "naked house" either and later in life, I was surprised to realize this was not the norm. Many of the people I talked to, by the time they reached adulthood, nudity had become so de rigueur, it lost all eroticism.

I, on the other hand, had problems starting with first grade. It was the first time I was away from my home all day long and I declined to go to the bathroom with all the other kids. Because of that I got a urinary tract infection and visited the nurse's office once everyday to use her private bathroom and leave her a note so she knew I went. Today, things are better but I still don't get people who are able to simulateously tinkle and talk! Later in junior high/freshman physical education, I was scarred by having to actually shower and change around other people. I did it just like I ate my veggies, as quickly as possible. The first time I went to a sauna was in Korea, where I was the only foreigner and the hairiest person by far. And when Korean men gawked, it was because they had never seen a white guy nude before and were simply curious. And now in my thirties, I'm still dealing with the same issue in the locker room of our YMCA.

Even though my body is full of imperfections, I have come to slowly realize that everyone around me is imperfect as well (albeit in different ways). While I will probably never join a nudist colony or choose something other than the clothing option at a local beach, I do get the point that our bodies are just bodies. I suppose in a way nudity is a class equalizer. No one really cares about your designer clothes or new shoes or judges your fashion sense when you are nude. God sees us in a very similar way. When we return to how we came into the world (a.k.a. our "birthday suits"), we are all more vulnerable to being hurt. For that reason, I would like to think that we are also nicer to each other, giving more space, speaking less and being polite when we do say something.

At the end of the Sex in the City episode, Charlotte returns to the spa where she nervously forces herself to disrobe in the steam room. She is validated when another woman says "I'd kill for your breasts." And Charlotte shly smiles and nods her thanks!

Maybe someday I'll get there too!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Happy Kansas Day!

Yesterday was a hectic day and the story is another post into itself which I'm not up to going into just now. Yes, it was that icky. So to cheer myself up, I'm honouring my homestate of KANSAS today! Kansas Day was also yesterday so I figure it's appropriate. There weren't many people from Kansas living in Seoul and I have yet to meet any here in Toronto. I also discovered that many people really don't know much about my great state! I've blogged before about famous Kansans so today I think I'll copy my friend's post idea and give you....


State Capital- TOPEKA- There was some joke when we were kids about a Native American and the "toe peek ka" of my sock....yeah it was probably a lame kid's joke. Not a big town but I do like the capitol building itself with the John Steuart Curry art inside and a recent addition to the top that was a long time in the making! Fun Fact: Topeka means "good place to dig potatoes."

State Flag- It's mostly blue which, as you know, is a colour that I find becoming. The picture in the center is the Kansas State Seal. It is kinda hard to make out but there is a landscape that includes a rising sun, representing the east; and a river and steamboat, representing commerce. In the foreground, a settler's cabin and a man plowing a field represent agriculture. A wagon train heads west and buffalo are seen fleeing from two Indians. Around the top of the seal is a cluster of 34 stars. Fun Fact: The state motto that appears above the stars is the Latin "Ad Astra Per Aspera" which means "To the stars through difficulties." I have always liked that idea.

State Flower- Sunflower (Helianthus)- This is where we get our name as the "Sunflower State." I've driven down country roads and highways in Kansas and seen huge fields of sunflowers and it just takes my breath away everytime. I love that the sunflower is a friend to the wildbirds and always faces the sun. I planted one when I was a kid and still have a picture of me on a ladder with this huge plant that resulted from a tiny seed. I can't remember what a sunflower does when it's cloudy!

State Animal: American buffalo (Bos or Bison americanus) To celebrate Kansas Day one year, my mom made us a carrot cake with white frosting on the top and, to our delight, an American buffalo! It was really cool and I still have the picture of it. Also outside of my hometown there was (and still is) a buffalo farm which I've been to many times! Buffalo meat is very low in cholesterol. No wonder the Natives didn't have problems with obesity until we came along with our beef and Big Macs! (That and they rode horses all day and walked/ran all the time.) Fun Fact: Natives observed American buffalo exhibiting homosexual behaviour and thus accepted this trait among their own people, calling them "two-spirited."

State Bird: Western meadow lark (Sturnella-Neglecta) I have seen (and heard) these beautiful birds all over but mostly on fence posts out in the country. Fun Fact: Kansas school children chose the western meadow lark as the State Bird in 1925. The Kansas Audubon Society facilitated this contest in which the western meadow lark won over close competitors, the bobwhite quail, the cardinal, and the robin. The Kansas Legislature approved the western meadow lark as the official state bird of Kansas in 1937. Another Fun Fact: This is also the state bird of someone else's state!

State Tree: Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides)- In Kansas, there are times during the year that the cottonwoods "snow" and the cotton is all over the streets and in the air. I suppose it's nothing compared to the cherry blossoms in Seoul or anything like that, but it is cool to see the wind pick up and the cotton blow over and around you. Not so cool if you are allergic to them fo course!

State Reptile: Agassiz ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) Whenever I think of box turtles, think of my brother who rescued them crossing busy highways and brought them home to winter in our window well under warm leaves and grass mulch. He would catch grasshoppers and grubs for them to eat on our kitchen table. He named them after famous Roman emperors. In the spring, when they would come out of hibernation, he would let them go near the creek. He was out "walking" one of his turtles one day when three cattle that had escaped from the nearby vet clinic cut through our yard. He wisely grabbed the turtle and stepped behind a tree as they stampeded by. Good times, eh? Not sure what happened to them but I do remember calling the local police who did not take me very seriously....

State Song: "Home on the Range" words by Dr. Brewster Higley, music by Dan Kelly- When I was a kid, I actually took a trip to Athol, to the cabin where this song was written. It wasn't all that from what I remember but I guess one could say that for most historical sites. I guess being where it actually happened is the point. Fun Fact: One of my favourite singers, Tori Amos, did a really cool cover of this song.

Other sillier Kansas symbols: (a big WHATEVER on all three!)
Amphibian: Barred tiger salamander (ambystoma tigrinum mavortium, Baird, 1850)
Insect: Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
Soil: Harney silt loam

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Happy Phantom?

Last week I went with my good friend to see the Hollywood version of a book she had read and loved, Perfume. In it, the main character murders several women in an attempt to create the ultimate fragrance. I found myself laughing with the audience at the brief, short scenes of "snatch and grab" that occurred despite the best efforts of the villagers to protect their daughters.

I had to wonder afterwards why death is so often humorous to us. Awhile ago I attended an amazingly brilliant performance called the Gorey Stories, based on the macabre Gashlycrumb Tinies written by Edward Gorey. In this production, Death was personified as an ambivalent character that slowly stalked unsuspecting children in order of the alphabet. There were gasps of horror but also laughs from the audience at some of the more outlandish deaths (dying of ennui , sucked dry by leeches or run through by an awl, for example). The quote on the playbill proclaimed"Death is hilarious."

This lead me to ask if death is indeed hilarious and if so why?

One of our favourite dramas (we are now looking for seasons 2-5 with Korean subtitles!) is Allan Ball's Six Feet Under which chronicles the life of a family who runs a mortuary. It often pokes fun at death in all its different forms. At the beginning of every segment for example, a future client of Fisher and Sons dies in a surprising way. Characters also discuss the use of unusual products such as superglue and dog food cans to make the dead look alive. Billy, one of the characters, points out that the word funeral also spells real fun.

As a child I always loved the shows The Addams Family and The Munsters. Even today I find these families darkly funny and the issue of death plays a large part of their humor. I especially like Wednesday Adams, who carries a headless Marie Antoinette doll and is forever trying to kill or torture her little brother in creatively gruesome ways.

In Mexico, the people celebrate the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) by staying up the night with the deceased in the cemetaries, drinking, eating, singing and telling jokes. There are decorations of paper mache skeletons dressed in outrageous clothes. The mood is intentionally light and joyous. And of course in our culture we have Halloween which also humorously deals with death. We have spook houses where we get scared and then laugh. We dress up in silly costumes and laugh at each other. We (well not me but some people) watch "slasher" movies and then laugh at how stupid and over the top they are.

It seems that as humans, we have a choice whether to laugh or cry when reminded of the constant presence of mortality in our lives. Both responses, I am told, have equally beneficial healing qualities emotionally and probably, when given a choice, most of us would rather laugh. After the Challenger accident, I remember lots of terrible jokes (Example: What colour were Christa_McAuliffe's eyes? Blue. One blew this way and one blew that way!) and I still remember sick and twisted jokes about unfortunate people with no appendages named Matt, Doug (dug), Pete (peat), Bob, Art, etc. Often people complain about tacky and tasteless jokes at serious times like these but it seems that people often need to deal with grim reality with a bit of levity.

Even in my own family, we often would rather laugh than cry. Riding in the hearse on the way to the burial of my maternal grandfather, my mother asked "Why on earth did we pick that horrible suit for Daddy?" to which her brother quipped" How else were we going to get rid of it?" (drum cue here)

So I suppose the answer to my question is that Life (which Death is an integral part of) is often gruesome and scary. We often worry or cry about death and dying but sometimes it feels good to just laugh at the illogical, random, meaningless of it all. Is Death our friend or foe? In reality it is neither one but as Don Corleone (quoting the Chinese general Sun Tzu) advised, "keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer." Perhaps by being better acquainted with death and dying, we will be better equipped to handle it when it causes us pain and suffering.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Singin' In the Rain

One of my favourite memories of the now defunct television series Ally McBeal took place in the psychologist's office. The psychologist, played by a brilliant Tracey Ullman, prescribed a "theme song" for Ally to get over her "Billy Blues" (Billy, her coworker and former flame, had gotten married and was no longer available). The psychologist's theme song, of course, was "Tracy."

One of the reasons I loved this show so much is that music played such a starring role. From Vonda Sheppard's thoughtful interludes, to the Biscuit's channeling Barry White's "You're the First, the Last, My Everything," to Robert Downey Jr. (another Ally love interest) singing Joni Mitchell's "River,"(not to mention the guest appearances of Sting, Barry Manilow, Jon Bon Jovi and Tina Turner) Ally McBeal truly had music in its soul.

I've always felt a little like Ally in the sense that I (like many of you out there) have music in my head, playing most of the time. And in difficult times, having a "theme song" really did help me get through. Some people have postive affirmations that they repeat to themselves ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it! People like me!") and some have visual slogans or mottos that they post around as reminders ("This is the first day of the rest of your life!"). Ally McBeal and I use music.

I have recommended "theme songs" so many times to buddies in bad times that I've even thought about putting together a collection of my favourites as a starting point for them to find their own. Here's a few of the songs that leap to my mind in no particular order: (lyrics link in the title, YouTube link in the artist's name)

"Through Rain"- Mariah Carey -I like how she emphasizes clinging to her faith in order to get through "the rain" just one more day.
"Stronger"-Britney Spears - Mock if you will (I totally would!) but I love how affirming the lyrics are.
"When the Heartache is Over"- Tina Turner -This woman has lived it and worked it. I have so much respect for her.
"Believe"-Cher - Another hard-working diva with a long career, who has the gift of perspective.
"I Will Survive"-Gloria Gaynor- There's a reason why gays have embraced this song and made it their anthem. It's filled with the universal message of hope for a better tomorrow.
"Ooh Child"- Spinners- Whenever I hear this song I remember Spike Lee's movie, Crooklyn, and an inspiration named Troy.
"Upside-Down"-Tori Amos- "I found the secret to life. I'm okay when everything is not okay."
"I Gotta Get Thru This"- Daniel Bedingfield- True, the soulful acoustic version is more in keeping with the meaning of the song. However this YouTube version features scenes of my 'hood in Toronto so that's why I featured it here.

Of course there are many more. I haven't even touched on hymns! But I think I'll stop here and let you all have a chance. Are there any songs that you've used in the past (or present or future) to get through your dark days? Do share!

I've also noticed that my list lacks more than one artist with that Y chromosome. "Why?" you may ask? I haven't a clue. Feel free to suggest a couple to me!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

First Day of My Life

The scene: Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes.

While sitting in the candlelight, listening to the choir sing songs especially prepared for this most holy of occasions, my eyes fall upon the thoughtful devotion written below:

" 'When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb.' Words have the power to change lives, in fact to change the world. The stories of Mary and Elizabeth are proof of this. What word does the story of your life tell? Mary and Elizabeth, each one separately and both together, allowed their hope and courage to be stronger than the doubts and judgements of others. They encouraged and supported each other. They celebrated and praised God for the gift they were to each other..."

At this moment, I had a flashback to earlier that morning when my partner and I were opening presents (he could not wait another day). After we had depleted our piles of gifts, I mentioned there was one more. He denied that there were more from his end. I said I had one more gift.

I went out of the living room and came back with a small box shaped like a Chinese delivery box. Inside was a giant silver fortune cookie with hinges. When this "cookie" was opened, inside was a slip of paper with the words "나와 결혼해 추세요" (Will you marry me?) with this ring around it. He said "yes" and we hugged and kissed for a long time. Then, trying not to cry (unsuccessfully), I attempted to sing my own version of this poignant song by Bright Eyes. (My rendition is below, the link is to the original on YouTube. Fun fact: This music video was directed by John Cameron Mitchell, creator and actor of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.)

Anyway so that's our news. It may not come as a surprise for most of you (this being our fifth Christmas together) and some of you smart readers even caught hints dropped in previous posts! We'll post further details when they become known to us!

Happy New Year Everyone!

This is the first day of my life,
Glad I didn't die before I met you
But now I don't care I could go anywhere with you
And I'd probably be happy.

Remember the time we drove all night
To see the sunrise in the morning
And I thought it was strange
You said everything changed
You felt as if you'd just woke up

Yours is the first face that I saw
Think I was blind before I met you
I don't know where I am I don't know where I've been
But I know where I want to go

So I thought I'd let you know
That these things take forever
I especially am slow
But I realized that I need you
And I wondered if we could grow old

So if you wanna be with me
With these things there's no telling
We just have to wait and see
But I'd rather be working for a paycheck
Than waiting to win the lottery
Besides maybe this time it's different
I mean I really think you love me...

Monday, January 01, 2007

(Hot) Treks in the (Cold) City

Danifesto has been enjoying the holidays and hopes his readers have as well! One of the season's highlights included a fabulous visit from hip royalty, ThatJolieGirl and RecordStoreGeek. As previous blogs can attest, we love our new city (*almost* as much as we love them!) and were thrilled to share some of it with them! Here's what we did!

TUESDAY- They arrived a bit late which was totally fine as I got a chance to read more of my current book. We took the TTC (the 3rd most heavily-used urban mass transit system) back to our apartment where my partner had prepared a Korean feast of miyuk guk, galbi, chapchae and daknaengchae (spicy chicken and veggie with noodle mixture). We enjoyed eating that and then opened awesome presents. (Oooh, Ahhhh, ohhhhh!) After having Korean green tea, we walked down to Yonge Street (after the Pan-American Highway, considered "The Longest Street in the World") and then came back to bed.

WEDNESDAY- We had a breakfast of dokguk (soup made with chewy rice cakes floating in a flavourful broth) at home. Then we headed south to the Distillery District and looked at all the cool shops. We had lunch at the Mill Street Brewery (horrible service!) and stopped off for coffee at Balzac's. Then we walked over to the St. Lawrence Market (which served as Toronto's first city hall for 54 years before becoming a market place in 1899). We intended to go up the CN Tower (world's tallest freestanding structure on land) but found the elevator cost prohibitive (and weren't up for taking the stairs for free)! Instead we went to the Eaton Centre (Toronto's most popular tourist destination as far as numbers of people) and saw the holiday displays. We ended the night with a fabulous dinner with GREAT service at Cafe Volo.

THURSDAY- After finding both Kalendar and Sneaky Dees closed for breakfast(Doh!), we fortunately found a little cafe nearby that was open. Then we went down Spadina to Old Chinatown and Kensington Market (same area oddly enough- best vintage shopping in the city). We went back to Sneaky Dees for lunch and then went up to tour the fabulous Casa Loma which was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Then we went to Koreatown for dinner at this great spicy chicken (dakgalbi) followed by norebang at BMB Karaoke. Highlights were the Summer Nights(from Grease) duet with ThatJolieGirl (Danifesto of course sang the part of Danny) and The Origin of Love ensemble (which RecordStoreGeek rocked out on!) We then went home and watched Muriel's Wedding.

FRIDAY -After a walk through St. James Cemetery, we tried to have breakfast at Big Mamma's Boy on nearby Parliament Street but it was closed (quickly becoming a reoccurring motif!). So instead we got coffee at Jet Fuel and then walked around beautiful Cabbagetown (where I will never afford to live but can dream). We toured the Riverdale Farm and the Necropolis nearby. Then after dropping off some belated Christmas packages from Kansas, we hopped on the TTC and went to Queen Street West. We had lunch at Black Bull and then walked into the many different shops and art galleries. For dinner we met my friends at Cadillac Lounge and then had drinks at the Cameron House before heading home.

SATURDAY- We started with coffee at a favourite hangout, the Bulldog Cafe (I love latte art there!) and then walked around Victoria College (part of University of Toronto) and the Ontario Legislature in Queen's Park. Then we took a street car to meet friends for sushi at Jun Jun's. That afternoon while RecordStoreGeek toured an airplane museum, ThatJolieGirl and Danifesto hung out in Kensington and Chinatown with his friends. (Danifesto succeeded in his search for the perfect tablecloth!) Then we went to Queen Street West again (ThatJolieGirl succeeded in her quest for the perfect hat!). We then went to a great record store and a new book store on Bloor Street in the Annex neighbourhood. For dinner we enjoyed King's Noodle in Chinatown. Then we crawled back home for packing and relaxing.

SUNDAY- This was a sad sad day. We had breakfast Doenjang jigae at home and then took them to the Lester B. Pearson International Airport. They had some trouble getting out of Canada but finally left after a couple hours delay. My partner and I came back home to an empty apartment and we took naps in preparation for the New Year's Eve celebrations that night.

A great time was had by all and it was so nice to have them here! My only wish was that the weather had been as pleasant as it was before and after their stay!