Author Archives: Ahimsa

Yeti Hikes: Dragonfly Mountain

DragonflySCULPTURE

Distance: 8 km Time: 2 hours

Built in 2014 in an obscure part of the city, the trail that ascends Dragonfly Mountain (not its proper name, of course) wends past apartment buildings and Buddhist temples alike.

You discover it quite by mistake, first by ascending a long set of stairs that you had never noticed before and then by ascending more stairs. Suddenly you are above the city, looking out at the Han River and Namsan. A Korean woman will chat with you for a bit, explaining that when she was a child there was no smog and everything looked a lot closer.

There is major construction on one end of Dragonfly mountain. They’ve destroyed many old buildings and it looks like a new apartment building is going up. Less than 500 meters from that hole in the earth is a modest Buddhist temple (apart from the Golden Buddha statue of course), guarded by a dog and a friendly homeless man with a dog of his own who offers to share his makkoli with you.

There’s no stopping though and your feet carry you forward, past ceramic tiles painted with images of Deadpool and Totoro, Kakao and Pixar characters alike. You may pause at the workout equipment–do pull-ups or sit-ups or any of another dozen exercises. Should you continue, fear not–there will be plenty more stations along the way.

You walk through grass and through what feels like jungle and, later, a gloomy forest. There are side trails down to apartments on one side and the city on the other. This is part of the city you have never been to, and the lull to explore somewhere new is strong, but you continue along Dragonfly mountain.

You pass the trail to another Buddhist temple, this one half-hidden in dense verdant foliage. Now you see a dome that looks like an observatory. But it’s really an emergency services– 119. Just past here the trail forks, and you eschew the paved road and climb again, past what appears to be a deserted university and up a flight of stairs that keep climbing long after the novelty has worn off.

You reach a badminton court, skirt around it, and find a wooden platform with a view of the city stretching all around you. Below is a wooden swing and a rose garden.  There are no elves frolicking in the garden, but you think that there probably should be.

The trail splits again, and again, and you emerge by a subway station. It’s not a long walk back to your house, however, and thus you finish the trek amongst a myriad of people. Dragonfly Mountain, so close to you, is no longer visible; hidden behind rows of apartment buildings and smog.

It matters not. You know you will return. In the meantime…

Your memories look like this:

Yeti Hikes: Achasan

Mount Acha

IMG_20170701_173943

There are at least 43 mountains in Seoul, but surely none of them are as accessible and easy to ascend as Achasan. The highest peak on Achasan is only 287 meters, so it’s not exactly a trek through the Himalaya, but in addition to the requisite views of the city and Gyeonggido there are three elements that really make it stand out among Seoul’s myriad of mountains.

Easy as (RedBean Paste) Pie

These are for charging your phone and taking selfies, replete with instructions.

For me, no mountain in Seoul compares to the scope, beauty, and grandeur of Bukhansan. But it’s a real slog up to the peak(s) and there are always thousands of other hikers toiling their way up with  you. Achasan, on the other hand? From the subway to the peak it takes about 45 minutes (your times may very based on how turtley or roadrunnery you hike). Once up there, there are gentlemen selling socks and drinks, plus solar panels to charge your phone. All the amenities a person could hope for, really.

The hike to the top is short, yes, but from there you can continue along the ridgeline to Yongmasan, another 10 K. (I haven’t done this yet but hopefully will this summer.)

There very well could be a mountain in Seoul with a better effort-to-view ratio, but if so I haven’t found it.

 

The Path Rocks

rocks

There are staircases that go most of the way up, because that’s kind of how Korea rolls. But the funnest way to go up (and down) is by clambering up (and down) the sheets of rock. It’s never scary and the rock gives good grip. I haven’t seen another mountain with this texture and it makes Achasan a bit unique.

 

Historic Koguryeo Ruins

IMG_20170701_171605

Most people know about China’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but Korea had its own Three Kingdoms period. (BCE37~CE668) This war pit the Shilla, the Baekje, and the Koguryeo against each other. It was a pretty even fight until eventually the Shilla enlisted the help of China and the rest was history, but for some time the Koguryeo held on. Many of the forts they built were located here. They’ve found remnants of 20 forts from the Three Kingdoms era, and the ruins of one of them is still visible ll fort of the Goguryeo era.

There’s also the Daeseongam Hermitage, a Three Kingdoms Tomb, a Cremation Site, and a Beacon Signal there, so those with an interest in history or culture get more than mere mountain.

Getting There

IMG_20170701_163521

Start at Achasan Station, naturally. There are several ways up the mountain, but all them are accessed by leaving the station via Exit 2, then walking through some colorful old neighborhoods. Just keep the mountain in front of you and you’ll get there.

If you want to go via Hwayang Temple (pictured above), turn onto Yeonghwasa-ro and then keep going up.

Final Note

2017-07-02 15.03.26

You don’t need hiking boots for this hike, but sneakers are very helpful. Make sure you bring enough water as well. It’s better to hike in the spring and autumn, when temperatures are cooler and views are clearer, but this is nice hike any time of year.

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

2406451_image_1

When asked about their favorite things about living in Seoul, both expats and Koreans frequently cite the subway system as one of the best parts of the city. Which sounds a little like damning with faint praise, but the subway is truly remarkable. It’s cheap (about a dollar to tap in and then an increasing amount based on how far you go, but never more than 2 dollars), covers a vast area (over 350 kilometers of track), and oh-so frequent (on most lines it takes some bad luck to have to wait more than 3 or 4 minutes for the train.)

There are more than 10 lines and over 350 stations, connecting 25.6 million people. The stations are always announced in English and Korean (and many popular stations in Japanese and Chinese too) and there are maps in each subway car (and free ones for your phone) so it’s easy to get around. One of the lines, the Sinbundang, is driven robotically. And they play jingles and songs at transfer stations, which pleases foreigners so much they make songs like this.

That’s not all. In the winter, the seats are heated so you no longer have to worry about contracting a case of cold bum. And many of the subway stations—Wangsimi, Jamsil, Gangnam, Express Bus Terminal, and others—are veritable malls, with shops, restaurants, aquariums, movie theaters, even theme parks. You can recharge your subway card at any station or in any convenience store. And if you need help in the station, you press a button that plays Fur Elise until a subway worker will come help you.

Now that’s not to say that it’s perfect. Rush Hour is VERY busy. Connecting between 2 lines can sometimes take a 25 minute hike. You will almost certainly be shoved by adjumas , people crowd in as soon as the doors open without letting other passengers disembark first, and the trains stop running surprisingly early, especially on weekends (By 11pm-12am).

However, my favorite part of the subway is one that isn’t much mentioned. Each line has a sort of advertisement about the stops on that line. You get to see a few words and an image, ranging from as-cool-as-a-mountain to as-boring-as-picture-of-ginseng. Like little teaser trailers about the areas, this photos give a tiny glimpse into that subway stop and the area around it. Here are a few examples, taken from lines 6 and 7.

 

Political Yeti: Of Ethics and Laws, Or Creating Something Better than the Bullshit Neo-liberal Kakistocracy Running Rampant in the 21st Century

snakeflag

We hold no truths self-evident. There are in fact no Truths, in the same way that there is no Creator. There is a social contract, which is based on utilitarian principles. The rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few.

Not that there’s such a thing as Rights either. Nothing is unalienable; hence the need for a social contract. Which is what I’m starting to explore here.

It’s 2017. We live at the height of the neo-liberal nightmare. It’s probable that it will change dramatically in our lifetimes, but unfortunately it’s more likely to get worse than better. And with the twin specters of nuclear war and climate change, there are chances it can get much worse.

While many Americans see the rise of Trump as indication of end times, I suspect they missed their diagnosis by at least fifty years. (It’s been a nightmare at least since Nixon, and probably since the end of the Second World War. And honestly thinking about the presidents of the 18 and 19th century, it’s not like that was a golden age either.) The elites have been running things for a long time, getting their way for a long time. Number 45 isn’t a sudden sign of a sickness, he’s an inevitable point in the decay of a decadent society. I wonder if future generations, should there be any, will look back on now as the time that the sickness of greed overran all else.

Back to building a better society. The Jefferson quote got me to thinking. Obviously the Bill of Rights is outdated. Of course it is. Written in 1789, it predates The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by years and Last of the Mohicans by decades, for instance. And it shows its age. The Right to Bear Arms, for one, was meant for people to own muskets in order to defend against British. It was not meant for citizens to arm themselves with automatic weapons or wear pistols to Walmart. It sort of amuses/alarms me to think what Thomas Jefferson and friends would think of the NRA and its ilk.

Likewise the third amendment is an anachronistic snapshot. But what’s striking about the Bill of Rights, kind of like the 10 Commandments, is what is missing.

Compared with the 33 other member states of the OECD , the US ranks consistently at the bottom on health indicators and has the second highest child poverty rate. Of all these OECD countries, the life expectancy in only three countries -Hungary, Mexico and Turkey – is lower than that in the US, and only Mexico has a higher homicide rate.

In related news, compared with these countries, the US has the greatest concentration of wealth, as measured by the share of the wealth held by the top 1%. The US has been found wanting in many key areas and recommendations from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights:

• Ratify international human rights treaties;
• Implement safeguards against torture;
• Combat racial discrimination;
• Continue progress implementing rights of LGBTI people;
• Combat racial discrimination;
• Ensure surveillance is consistent with international human rights law;
• Ensure due process for migrants;
• Provide for safe abortion;
• Reduce poverty;
• Ensure women are paid equally as men for the same work;
• End child labor on farms;
• End various forms of inequality;
• Abolish the death penalty; and
• Implement measures against excessive use of force by police.

Just that? Okay that seems pretty monumental. Let’s start with something easier. More basically, most constitutions around the world guarantee some very basic things, including:

“the right to shelter”;
the “right to safe work environment”;
“equal pay for equal work”;
“human rights”;
“the right to a free education”;
a “right to health care”;
“the right to work”;
“the right to dignity”;
the “right to join trade unions.”

Even that low bar is highly controversial and would be fought tooth-and-nail both high and low by many Americans. I suspect the American people are too controlled, the masses have too many opiates for any kind of major change.

So what do you think? How would you rebuild the Bill of Rights, if you were starting a new country? Because the ethical underpinnings of the Western World comes from a 3000 year old mythology, it might be advisable to incorporate some ethics into our legal document too. From a mishmash of “New Commandments” here are some that I think could be useful.

1. Respect Life. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
2. Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
3. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
4. Every person has the right to have control over their body.
5. Treat others not as you would want them to treat you but how they want to be treated. Don’t assume that what you and others have the same expectations. There is no one right way to live. Think about their perspective.
7. Leave the world a better place than you found it.
8. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
9. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
10. Always seek to be learning something new.
11. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
12. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.
13. Do not ever even think of using people as private property.
14. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
Learn to obey before you command.
15. Make reason your supreme commander.
16. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
17. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
18. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
19. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
20. Treat the earth and all that dwell there on with respect.

It’s not the concise ten, but on the other hand neither are half of them about which sky spirit to worship. And there is a bit of overlap. When we’re making our country, we’ll try to be more precise.

So that’s the start of my new country. A blend of new age ethics underscored by basic rights as defined by what most other countries do. What do you think?

Sources
Bill of Rights needs Revising
10 better Commandments
New Commandments

Yeti Eats: Rudy’s Pizza

My sister kept excitedly mentioning a place called Rudy’s. I didn’t really care–we already so many places to go to, both old favorites and new places to try. But her enthusiasm would not be denied, so one Sunday, she and her boyfriend and I drove halfway across the city and tested out this place.

It’s about as unassuming as can be from the outside.20170326_163026

But the inside is cozy, the servers are friendly and well-informed (if not actually vegan themselves) and there are signs with all kinds of vegan information.

Not everything is vegan, but there is an impressive array of options. You can choose Follow Your Heart or Daiya cheese–I don’t really know the difference but they’re both good.

 

20170326_162410

We showed absolutely no restraint and ordered vegan wings, cheese bread sticks, pesto breadsticks, and a half-and-half pizza. A lot of food and all of it awesome.20170328_001644

The vegan wings were not something I would have ordered but they were tasty. And it comes with a choice of vegan Ranch, Vegan Blue Cheese, Vegan Creamy Sriracha,
or Vegan Garlic Butter.20170328_001708

The pesto breadsticks only came as a mistake but were maybe the best part of the meal.20170328_001736

Finally the pizza! With 3 people there were dissenting opinions, but we went with my sister’s dream of taco pizza (which had beans on it, in proper fashion) and Vegan BBQ-Ru. Other than a lot of black olives there were no complaints at all.

Not having had pizza for a couple of years, I was really jonesing and this place was perfect. I think it leapfrogged Sizzle Pie and HUB as my favorite portland pizzeria. I’ll definitely be back.

Look at me. I am old, but I’m happy. 

My sister and I spent a lot of time at the library while growing up. My mom worked until 5 and one of the advantages of a small town is that we could easily walk to the public library after school. (And one of the advantages of being nerds is that we really liked this arrangement.) The librarians (especially Rita, who was the kindliest grandmother you can imagine) were always great to us, recommending books and watching out for us.

But the small town library was not exactly up-to-date. A lot of the books I could read were Danny Dunn (written in the 50s) Encyclopedia Brown (written in the 60’s) and We Were There (written in the 50’s).

Danny Dunn was pretty cool, everyone knows that Encylopedia Brown rocks, but The We Were There books were my favorite. They took historical events and inserted kids into them, so you ended up with titles like We Were There on the Oregon TrailWe Were There with Richard the Lionhearted in the Crusades, and We Were There with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.

In one of them, which a little research shows me must have been We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma. Or maybe it was another book about Ferdinand Magellen or Americus Vespucci (I had quite an explorer phase.) Anyway, there was a book I read where a kid joined up with an explorer. Upon finding out the explorer was 40, he gasped at how old that sounded. Of course I agreed with the kid.  40 was old! Now that I’m here, on the side of the Explorer, I kinda think that kid was exaggerating a bit. Morgan Freeman wasn’t even famous when he was 40. But I do feel my age. The early 80s, my formative years, were long ago. Even the Eddie Vedder era that is the highlight of my life was a quarter of a century ago, as far the Kennedy era as it is from us. 

Forty really isn’t so bad. However there are some drawbacks.

  • I’m beginning to think my NBA career is looking a little unlikely.
  • I can’t drink much alcohol anymore.
  • I have to stretch before running or playing basketball. 

There is good stuff too.

  • My beard has enough grey in it that I don’t get carded anymore.
  • People consider you smarter the older you look.
  • I’m closer than ever to being able to wear my pants up to my nipples.

I was never a big fan of bucket lists, for a multitude of reasons. However, back in 2009-2010 I did make a list of special things I hope I can do.

 

  • Walk barefoot over hot coals.
  • Drive the ice-fields parkway
  • Bike through the middle east.
  • Hike the PCT
  • Ride a camel across Mongolia.  Write a book about it called “I Think I Khan.”
  • Enjoy eating durian
  • Walk across Norway.
  • Play one-on-one with Arvydas Sabonis.
  • Use a grappling hook to climb up something, at night, while dressed in all black.
  • Climb a coconut tree and throw coconuts at the ground. Bonus Points if I can hit a monkey..
  • Get into a tomato fight (maybe Spain’s La Tomatino)
  • Live in a castle for at least a year
  • Direct a scary movie.
  • Have a book reading at Powells
  • Throw rotten tomatoes at someone who sings a shitty song.
  • See an Ionesco play in Paris.
  • drink maple syrup straight from a tree (or bucket) in Quebec.
  • Hike into a natural hot spring while it’s snowing outsideDrive a motorcycle with a sidecar through Russia. Bonus Points: Have a dog wearing goggles in the sidecar.
  • Bob for apples on Halloween Addams family style….(with big seesaw plank)
  • Have long hair and headbang to Bohemian Rhapsody while driving in a car. Bonus points: Dana carvey is there too.
  • buy groceries in france and walk home with baguette sticking out of bag
  • fart on a skunk

 

 

 

Not always probable, or likely

20170307_092425

Alis volat propriis

It’s a fifteen minute walk from my sister’s to Fred Meyers, that bastion of Oregonian grocery stores. Each day I go there, I pass squirrels jittering across the street, crows cawing from dead winter trees, rusting basketball hoops and evergreen trees. There are signs of modernity for sure–two different ganja dispensaries, a hip coffee shop filled with people on their laptops, an escape room. This is the Oregon of hipsters and yelpsters, of Portlandia fans and transplants so fresh they pronounce Couch Street like it’s furniture.

But most of the area around my sister’ house probably hasn’t changed for decades. The weathered auto repair shop, with the name spelled out on the door with fragments of duct tape. An appliance store. A combination Chinese restaurant/dive bar with a sign advertising their 5 dollar breakfast special. Burly men in baseball caps who probably wouldn’t ever be the inspiration for a Portlandia character. This is the Oregon of the past, of small towns and farmers and descendants of those who came over on the Oregon Trail. These things–even though they’re in the same city, are found next to each other on the same block–belong to a different, slower world than the modern Portland.

It’s probably true that Portland is no longer a little big city. It has grown up and grown out and grown across and is now just a city. Perhaps it’s not just any city, but most long-term residents agree that it has lost most of that je nais se weird that defined the city for so long, left with the dichotomy of small town, blue collar detritus floating beneath, partially supporting, the decadent layer of hipster institutions.Sure, she flies with her own wings but it’s not just her up in the sky anymore.

What does this all mean? I’m not sure, other than as a reminder that it’s not very useful to stereotype or generalize. But it’s interesting to me, to see these two oregons, these two times, blending together. Does that happen everywhere? Regardless, I think portland has reached the end of an era. And yet the older era is still here.  There’s a lot to think about, but my fifteen minutes is up. I have reached my destination and so thoughts on the nature of reality can wait until next time.