Friday, September 21, 2007

What A Tale My Thoughts Could Tell!

I just finished a book with a really great story. I should actually restate that- it had really great stories, plural! The element I loved so much about it was how they all were so sublimely tied together in the end. Chaos and non sequitur events (similar to the plot of the movie Go)are tranformed brilliantly into a very carefully constructed conclusion.

This actually happened to me in my personal life, albeit on a much smaller scale. As you know, I've been working at an ESL school downtown. Twice daily I pass by this beautiful old monumental building on 10 Toronto Street. I have been so drawn to it. There was a plaque on the outside of the building that stated it started as a post office long ago but was purchased by the Argus Corporation. The name of the company appears no where else on the building and, all in all, it's anyone's guess what this corporation actually does. The only visual is of an attendant sitting the little office right beside the door and many times I thought about just walking in and asking "Soooo...yeah, what's the deal here?"

However it was far more entertaining to let my (considerable) imagination run amok. It added joy to my otherwise druggery-filled day to concoct grandiose stories where a Mafia-esque law firm (like in The Firm) are silently surveying the citizens of Toronto for their own dastardly deeds. Or better yet, the building is a haven for a secret spy organization (like Mission Impossible or Charlie's Angels) that works behind the scenes, carrying out justice where normal law enforcement is powerless.

Inconsequentially, I've been reading a book for a book club I've recently just joined. The club is called the Twenty-Minute Book Club. They are a very laid-back group and on-topic discussion is usually only twenty minutes (give or take) and then people go off on tangents. The topic was Conrad Black and since we were allowed to pick any book to read, I chose to read A Life in Progress, which is his autobiography. The others chose to read biographies so they got a completely different perspective. It's debatable which perspective is more "truthful" but in reality,truth really is variable. I feel like I was able to know Conrad Black as a person, like I had coffee and a chat with him. No, I don't think we would be friends but I do respect him as a highly intelligent person.

Conrad Black, for those of you south of the Canadian border, is a very famous figure in Canadian news. Not only was he a wildly successful business entrepreneur but he also gave up his Canadian citizenship in order to be named to the British House of Lords. Most recently, he has been convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and is facing a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison and a million-dollar fine.

What's the link between these two parts of my life? I learned while reading my book that Black's company was the Argus Corporation, located on 10 Toronto Street, from my daily work walk! So the mystery has been solved in a most satisfying way!

This experience gives me the briefest of glimpses into what the "Author" of my story has planned for me. With the looming presence of my 34th birthday, I've been wondering a great deal about my life, past, present and future. Although it appears like my life is quite complicated and seemingly disconnected from my friends and family (and their equally if not moreso chaotic lives), I just have this sense that everything will all come together in the end! Whether that is in this life or in the next of course remains to be seen! Meanwhile I'll hang in there and keep "reading!" I can't wait to see what happens in the next chapter of my life!

A scripture passage that I read in my friend's blog that I feel was speaking to me: “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans not to harm you, but to give you hope and a future …” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

If You Just Smile

Over the past month, I've been dealing with a dental dilema. One day, after biting into the routine chicken wrap I always get at least once a week for lunch, I found a piece of my porcelain veneer had detached itself from my left front tooth! I was so upset but felt silly and vain for feeling that way. I wondered if people were looking at me a little too closely when I laughed or smiled so I tried to do both by covering my teeth with my upper lip or my hand. Completely irrational and ridiculous but when one is paranoid about appearance, things like this happen! It's like I had this piece of food stuck on my teeth that I could do nothing about!

Clearly, I had to find a dentist to solve the problem and quick! The first dentist lived in my housing complex neighbourhood. She didn't introduce herself and her first question once I sat in the dentist's chair was "What do you expect me to do about this?" She seemed offended that I was bringing a cosmetic problem to her but warmed slightly when I told her that my adult incisors had come in without the enamel covering. She pushed me to get a crown on my tooth which would require more money, more grinding of the tooth itself and a 30 minute trip to her lab in North York. I said I needed to think about it and left, never to return.

My second dentist was recommended to me by a friend and was LOVELY. She was really very nice. She actually looked in my mouth to make an assessment! As well intentioned as she was, she was unable to help me because her lab technician was on a two-week holiday and would be booked solid for a month upon her return.

They say that "third time's a charm" and my third dentist visit yesterday proved to be just what I needed! I found her just from an advertisement in fab magazine. I picked her because she was very close to my apartment and she offered flexible appointments. When I arrived, she understood that I wanted to put this behind me and glued a matching plastic resin to the pieces of the remaining veneer. This solution may last three weeks to as long as three years! Furthermore, she asked me all about my partner and our immigration experience. I left feeling like I had made a friend and definately will give her my business in the future!

This got me thinking about the parallels between my experience and the story of the Good Samaritan. In short, a Jewish man was hurt and in need of help. The first man passed him by as did the second, without helping. The third man took action to help him. The three women in my story are probably all equal in experience and talent but the action of the last dentist is really what made the most difference to me in the end. She took steps to not only see me as more than a patient but to meet my needs as well.

I suppose this is why I have so much more respect for people of action (the late Mother Theresa, Doctors Without Borders) than people of word (the late Jimmy Swaggart). When I think of the thousands of people out in the world, taking action to fight hunger, poverty and sickness, it gives me hope for humanity and, a reason to truly smile again!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Oh! The Places You'll Go!

One of the questions frequently I get asked is "How many countries have you been to?" I never can remember them all and by the time I figure it out, nobody cares any more! So, as a way to save time and maintain interest in future conversations, I'll document the countries I've been to here:
The first time I left the country was to go to Vancouver, British Columbia (CANADA) for the 1987 World Expo. I remember having a really good time. I was given a little tiny "passport" in which I could go to the different pavillions and get a stamp from that country. I wanted to collect them all but my dad had swollen feet (from a sunburn the day before) and couldn't do a lot of walking, so I had to be selective!
In university, my brother convinced to go with him to Oaxaca (MEXICO) for a language study and also to see some of the country. We got to visit the town he was an exchange student in and see many ruins. Amazing! Except for getting violently ill. Damn that Montezuma and his revenge!
Of course five years ago my life changed by accepting a job in Seoul (SOUTH KOREA). A month later, 9/11 happened. Despite warnings, two coworkers and I went to Thailand a month later and had a fabulous time! My trips to Guam and Saipan were also relaxing but also "safe" places to go since they really are part of the US and not separate countries.
I took an amazing trip to London (UNITED KINGDOM) where I saw many theatre productions as well as tourist sites and Winsor Castle. The highlight would be a private tour of Westminister to see House of Lords and House of Commons.
After that I went to Sabah (MALAYSIA) to climb a mountain and go snorkling. That was a really great trip! That summer, after a visit to Kansas, I convinced my cousin to follow me back to Korea and squeeze in a trip to Bejiing (CHINA). I will never forget climbing the Great Wall!
I spent my next birthday visiting my friend Doug in Tokyo (JAPAN) and later went with John
to check out HONG KONG and MACAU- a place I would love to return to!
My friend Mandy and I went to Sarawak (MALAYSIA) to tour the rainforest! That was a great trip! My three week road trip in AUSTRALIA could have been much more enjoyable but I saw many things and was especially happy when I was in Sydney at Gregory's house. That was probably the most miserable Christmas in memory.
I attended an ESL conference in Jakarta (INDONESIA) and then that summer did a fabulous 'round the world trip that took me to see Mohamed (our exchange student in Kansas) in Dubai (UAE), my coworker Ruth in Cairo (EGYPT) and my friend Matt in Istanbul/Ankara (TURKEY). Highlights of that trip were of course the pyramids, Hagia Sophia and Capadokia.
My best friend at SFS and I jumped at a chance to spend the weekend hiking up Mount Gumgang (NORTH KOREA). I felt really honored to be one of the few people to be allowed to visit this country, so close to South Korea and yet so far away!
My partner and I took a trip to Manila and Cebu (PHILLIPINES) which made for a very special Christmas memory (although tainted by the horrible loss of life due to the tsunami). We took another trip together back to Sydney (AUSTRALIA). Despite visa problems, I got to see a lot more of the city and we made enjoyable road trips to Canberra and the Blue Mountains.
Looking over the list of 17 countries I've been to, it somehow seems fitting that most recently I returned again to Vancouver, the first place I started my adventures. Highlights there included a mountain, a bridge, two beaches, two parks and lots of laughs with family and friends.
Is this Vancouver trip a bookend or merely a comma for my further adventures? Only time can tell!

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Lifetime's Not Too Long

Thanks to all the encouraging support, Danifesto is back after a month of being a quasi-uncle (due to the visit of my partner's 11 year old nephew) and a wonderful week of vacation/family reunion in Vancouver.

A recently read anthology has caused me to think about the many relationships I have with my friends. I really have been very blessed in my life and it occurred to me after reading the passage by Holleran below, that absence has no effect on friendship for me. Much in the same way that the friends of Jesus kept His memory alive after He left them, my friends are never forgotten because they are a vital part of who I was, who I am and who I have yet to become.

The strangest part of friendship may have nothing to do with the living, however. That is the realization that some friendships do not really die till both parties do. The oddest proof, if that's the word, of friendship is that daily thought of someone years after they've vanished; the conversations one still holds with them, the things one wishes one had said, the hope that they forgave, or understood, your weaknesses and failures during their struggle. You'll never know. Instead you find things in the newspaper you'd ordinarily clip and send them, or hear some gossip that makes you want to call them up, or learn something about a mutual friend's career you know only they'd fully appreciate. Which leads you to the oddest moment: wanting to dial someone at three in the afternoon to discuss something with a friends who isn't there. To a remarkable degree we are our friends, and as they diminish, so do we. (p. 37)

So to my friends past and present I'd like to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU for all the great memories and being the fabulous creations that God has made you!