adventures in urban agriculture, daejeon style vol. 1

As mentioned previously, the winding back streets of Daejeon provide a large magnitude of examples of people growing food crops right in the center of a dense urban metropolis. From small remnant farm plots not yet converted into officetel buildings, to squash snaking around in front of apartment buildings, to the ubiquitous potted pepper plants, people cultivate culinary products in nearly every available location, no matter how limited. Me being a fanatic of the garden, especially of the city variety, I decided to take the leap and get into the action this year.

From the outset of this project, there were known logistical hurdles to overcome, the first of these being the location of the necessary supplies and inhabitants for what would become my first Korean garden. This was fairly easily accomplished with a trip to the downtown street market in early April, where I secured seeds of several vegetables, seed trays, etc. and then luckily stumbled upon a bonanza of large discarded planter pots on the way home from the market. The next and more intractable problem was where the garden would reside, being as we live in a small 8th story apartment with limited to negligable access to the surrounding grounds due to language barriers. Our apartment is, luckily, equipped with a relatively large, enclosed, southern facing balcony where the laundry is washed and hung to dry. Now clean clothes and dirty pots are not an obvious combo, but I devised a way to the divide the space, and Taylor was amazingly happy to go along with the plan. There is also a kind of planter hanger protruding from our balcony railing that is slightly insecure, but overall suspectedly reliable.

So it was with this space in mind that I set about to planting my seeds and warming up for the summer crop. My mom even sent me some basil seeds (not readily found in Jungangno market), and with the one drawback of completely defective eggplant seeds, the garden was off to promising start. This is what it looked like:

Having overcome the anticipated difficulties, it was time for the unexpected to kick in. When relations between us and our boss quickly and severely deteriorated in the end of April, we made the painful decision to seek a new employer. As our employer provides our housing, this also meant moving to a new apartment. Not everyone is familiar with, or sympathetic to the concept that I would really enjoy a (preferably southern facing) balcony where my crops could prosper, but some of our new housing options seemed promising. The main problem was the element of uncertainty; with plants that needed to be put in ground (or, small pieces of ground enclosed by cylindrical plastic containers), I didn't want to make a move until I was sure those plants would have a place to go. Also, of course, small plants and empty pots are also much easier to move than large, bulky pots full of dirt.

After pondering long and hard over potential alternate outdoor locations for the garden, I finally realized that there is a large unused brick area at the skatepark I visit almost daily. There is full sunlight, plenty of space, a relatively nearby water source, and I had some semblance of a justification for using the space, given that I am a frequent inhabitant of the park. I asked a couple of the guys at the park about it, hoping that they could check with the guard man to make sure everything was cool. Their resounding response, was "just put the plants there, we don't need to ask the guy". Taking this as a green light for "Saemmori Garden", I went to Jeju for a week with grand ideas bouncing through my head of building large beds from scrap street wood, having fresh veggies for the skate barbeques, and maybe even getting some of the local skaterats interested in gardening. I even bought an orange tree.

When I returned home, my first errand was back to Jungangno market, where I picked up a bunch of surprisingly cheap starts (having much more room to work with, I vastly expanded my vision for the garden), and two gigantic bags of potting soil. I loaded up a very bulky load on the handcart, gathered bags of plants, and slowly rolled my way over to the park, about a kilometer and a half away. When I arrived, there were no skaters there, only a guard previously unknown to me, regarding me first with puzzlement, followed by skepticism, and finally culminating in disapproval. With one to five word sentences, hand gestures, plenty of smiling, and lots of thumbs up, I tried to convince this guy that "Saemmori Garden" was a go. He politely disagreed, but was kind enough to put in a call to his superior, confirming the negative response. Discouraged and tired, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was wrestle this awkward load of junk all the way back home, but after a short rest, that's exactly what I did.

The orange tree was basically a ball of roots in a black plastic bag, and most of the starts I purchased were dangerously rootbound. For these plants to live, they needed to be in pots. I didn't see any point in wasting perfectly good plants and soil I just bought, so they went into the pots on our balcony this morning. This is a little inconvenient, as I now have six large potted plants to move into an apartment we don't even have yet, or know if there is a place for them at, but it still makes me feel good to look out and know they're there. This is how the situation stands right now:

I will certainly follow up with updates on where the garden ends up.


censorship and thought control

Author's note: this is a short rant limited by time, hunger, and amount of insightful things to acutally say about the topic.

Maybe what I was most excited about getting out of China for was the escape from blocked internet sites. Not that BBC News is really that much better than or different from the New York Times, or that I really have to use Wikipedia all that much, or that I actually need to read the blog I just wrote, but it's annoying. The first day I arrived in Vietnam, I read what BBC had to say about what was going on, and I definitely took a look at my blogger blogs. It felt good.

I don't know if it is the particular internet cafe I am now at, but I can no longer look at either of my blogger blogs (just like China, I am still free to post, just not to read). It seems outlandish that someone actually found out that I was writing about Vietnam and then blocked my blogs in this country, but that seems to be what has happened. I made friends with a teacher living in Ho Chi Minh City, and he is sure that your email gets read here (not that that doesn't happen in America though), and that you can be subjected to police action depending on what is in your email.

We also got into discussing Korea, which has a totally open policy towards information and education, and yet demonstrates an incredible consistency of ideas and opinions in its populace. There seems to be no sense in limiting or attempting to control what information people have access to. People can always circumvent laws and restrictions. It seems like you can allow people to read think, say and feel whatever they want to, while still guiding their ideas in a certain direction. I have long thought that this is the case in America, where freedom of speech in no way ensures that the majority of people still don't get erroneous information from what is essentially State TV (also known as Fox News).

All I'm really getting at here in this rant is that censorship is ineffective and just plain irritating, while subtle directing and controlling of public opinion can take place very easily in countries without rampant, official or obvious censorship.


tiger leaping purge

Yunnan province, in severe southwestern China, is shaped roughly like a left-handed thumbs-up. The northwestern section of the province constitutes the thumb, and it wedges itself right into a crevice created between the wild western regions of Sichuan and Tibet. Along the western ridge and the tip of the thumb, the Earth leaps towards the sky as the foothills of the Himalayas begin their march up. Not really having the time or resources to properly delve into Tibet, and Sichuan being a bit out of the way, we opted to explore this section of China to at least get a feel for the mountains. We spent several days in Kunming, the provincial capital, getting our Vietnam visas arranged before making the bus ride out to popular and picturesque Lijiang.

Lijiang is traditionally home to the Naxi ethinic minority. There is a beautiful old town, where narrow, uneven streets wind through, around, up and down among architecture that may or may not be quite old. There are waterways of fast running, clear water that vary in width from a fist-width trickled to a rushing stream. This is my favorite part of the town. There are often people scrubbing their clothes on steps leading down to the gushing channels. There are special square pools where the water rises clear and fresh out of the ground. In the larger waterways, schools of fish face upstream swimming in time to the current and feasting on the debris swiftly moving downstream. There are goldfish, some kind of white fish, but the trout are my favorite to watch. Their slender, muscular bodies seem perfectly adapted to sit suspended in the current effortlessly. Bridges over the streams range from proper stone arches to almost haphazard wooden timbers. Sometimes the water disappears completely, and you can hear it flowing beneath the very stones that constitute the street. To know the geography of the erratic organization of this cluster of buildings is the know the location, movement, beginning and confluence of these unnumberable waterways. It is fairly common to see older Naxi women with brown crinkled skin, a royal blue Mao-style cap and basket backpack. Of course, all of the buildings in old town are occupied by tourist shops, cafes and hotel/hostels.

Because we have an affinity for domestic tourism in action, we chose China's busiest holiday (Golden Week) to go to one of the most popular destinations for domestic travel. This actually turned out to not be too big of a problem.

The real reason Lijiang is on the backpacker circuit map is because it is the jumping off point for Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of those attractions that everyone you meet on the road insists is "A MUST!". After waffling back and forth about going by myself and leaving Taylor in Lijiang vs. dragging Taylor along on the two-day trek, along with lacking required gear, I had kind of resigned myself to skipping the gorge. A last minute, night before conversation and photo viewing had convinced me that I needed to go ahead and just do it.

It had rained the entire week before we arrived. It continued to rain everyday after our arrival in Lijiang. 4000 meter gorges with sparse vegetation are not known to be among the most pleasant or safe places to enjoy daily thunderstorms. To add insult to injury, I became afflicted Saturday night with sudden, swift and severe intenstinal distress that made sleeping, moving, leaving the bed, eating, enjoying life in general, not to mention gorge trekking, out of the question.

A little salty about having to give up my precious Tiger Gorge, I was not made to feel any better by my sleepless night last night on my 10-inch wide slat directly above the engine of the old Yunnan Express "Sleeper" Bus.

Vietnam here we come!



(Author's note: This posting is not about China at all. Sometimes travelling gives you a chance to think about where you came from, and it's just as important for that reason as any other.)

Opportunities come and go every day. Some we take, some we pass up, and these can be good or bad decisions in either situation. About two weeks before I left Korea, I half-drunkenly mentioned to my friend (who we will call "Upsayo") that it was too bad we had never started a band and didn't have any time left to. He called me the next day not suggesting so much as demanding that we put together a show before I left. This was one of the opportunities I didn't pass up.

Despite the fact that my final two weeks were already a little booked with entertaining Taylor's mom for a week while Taylor finished her classes, entertaining BOTH of our mom's for an additional week, moving out of my apartment, planning and arranging all the logistics for a four month trip to China and Southeast Asia, writing a manual of how to perform my job, and tying up loose odds and ends, I managed to squeeze in time for band practice. These were always after 10:00 at night on quiet nights at the bar where we would have our "final" show. It was difficult, exhausting, but extremely enjoyable. Miraculously, we managed to put together a full set in just four practices, and pulled off a show the Saturday before my departure.

The reason I mention it (aside from wanting to show off (videos can be found here) and give some proper credit to Upsayo (as well as Snake James)) is to encourage everyone to take a chance sometime on something that sounds crazy, difficult, or just plain too much. I've passed up a lot of things in my life because I was too busy, too tired, too grumpy, etc. Many of these I'm happy I passed up. But this experience was one that I could just feel was worth it, and I gained a whole new dimension of friendship, musical experience, and rockstardom by taking the crazy chance.



(Author's note: although this posting technically covers only exploits in Shanghai, I have found it necessary to include a few extraneous details from my previous location. Please bear with me, and I promise we will get to Shanghai soon enough.)

In Qingdao, people drink beer. Lots of it. You would expect this, it being a brewery town and all, but even at lunch time all the tables at a restaurant are littered with pitchers of beer. It's also (in retrospect) an extremely pleasant place where people are incredibly kind, friendly and generally good natured. I just have to make sure we understand where the score stands on Qingdao before we start talking about Shanghai, namely, good.

We boarded our sleeper to Shanghai a little bummed out that the dudes in the upper bunks had made themselves at home sitting on our lower bunks with us. This was not the optimal situation, but luckily they later moved up top. Around supper time, the older and rounder of our bunkmates scampered down from his perch and produced a bag full of food and two bottles of Tsingtao. He promptly laid this all out on the table and offered me one of the bottles of beer (all done with hand gestures). He also invited us to sample some morsels of his dinner (a whole roasted chicken, and some delicious buns served with condensed milk). We moved up to one word (pretty much all in English) sentences catalyzed with copious smiling. When there was one piece of chicken left, he offered it to me. That piece being the head, I politely declined, and he promptly stuck the whole thing in his mouth, retrieving only the beak. After dinner, we had more halting conversation mostly revolving around looking at different pictures in our China guide book. Our second bunkmate made no attempts at contact with us.

It's good that the company on the train was somewhat interesting, because the scenery certainly was not. If you could imagine combining the two fantastic American landscapes of midwest cornfields and Utah desolate weird chemical industrial plants, you would have exactly what we saw for twenty hours. Oh shit, that's not quite right, I forgot the sprawling uniform government housing/dorm buildings that were interspersed.

For better or worse, we arrived in Shanghai around lunch time, and promptly took the subway in the wrong direction (are we detecting a theme here?) and so wandered around back and forth for about 4o minutes trying to find our hostel. We finally taxied to the "Captain's Hostel" right in the ritzy part of town. This is one of those classic large scale city-center hostel affairs. About five floors of dorm rooms are seemingly packed to the gills with a mix of 78% German, 8% Scandanavian, 13.5% Asian, and .5% (us) American backpackers. All in all, its a pretty nice place.

Shanghai is a city of stark contrast. The main tourist drags are lined immediately on either side by dark streets and alleys full of smelly water and hanging laundry. Half of the city is seemingly spurting right up out of the ground in great glittering geysers of development, while the other half seems to be being torn down in dusty dingy destruction. There are more foreigners here than any city I've been to in Asia, many of them businessmen, and a lot of them tourists (can't seem to find too many teachers). There are about three main tourist traps, and we've hit all three of them hard. They are mostly worth it. One is the area along the river, which highlights views of the impressive exploding skyline on one side, and classic European architecture on the other.

The other worthy candidate is a classical Chinese garden dating from the 1600's. It's pretty spectacular, but they've engineered the stupid thing so that you have to fight your way through a labrynth of shops, fast food, watch, bag, shoe and sunglass peddlers, and art students for what seems like hours before you can even find the entrance. (The exit is cleverly placed at a different location in the same mess, so you can't retrace your steps out.) But the garden is quite special, you can really feel the oldness of the place, and it's as if the stone, rocks, wood, carving and plants have all kind of grown and melded into each other to become one single unit. It's also interesting to catch the odd glimpse of a sky scraper or hanging laundry or have the silence (brief periods of which exist in between the barking of megaphone mass tour guides) pierced by the honk of a scooter careening around outside.

Possibly the best piece of Shanghai we've seen was an interesting complex of art galleries near the train station. It was cool to see, and there was some good work there, but I'll let Taylor fill you in on the details of that.

Though people generally wear clothing over their torsos, and children don't generally run around in assless pants (unlike Qingdao), I would say the level of manners is generally lower here. This is, of course, kind of a big city phenomenon, but it is very strong here, and most apparent on the subway. Even in the biggest, rudest cities I've been to, the people understand the rule that you have to let those on the train get off the train before you can shove your way on. That's not even manners, it's just the way that things need to happen in order for the system to work. Well, in Shanghai, that's not how it works. You fight your way on, and the people getting off be damned. This is not the only example of rudeness, of course, but it is the most visibly obvious. The rest is mainly just that indifferent face and lack of smiling or acknowledgement of your existence that is common in other locations as well.

Overall, Shanghai is about what I was told it would be: not that exciting a place to visit. I'm certainly glad I came, and I think that living here could be pretty cool, but I don't live here, and I don't have time to search out everything that is cool. That being said, the coolness certainly doesn't jump right out at you. Tomorrow we'll be heading out for Suzhou, about an hour west of here, for some even more outstanding gardens than the one here. We may or may not return to check out Friday nightlife in Shanghai before moving on to the western mountains.


china: here we aren't

A disclaimer: this posting is stolen from the joint Travis-Taylor travel blog that we have started. I will continue to post here on gonzobonsai, but both Taylor and I will give additional travel updates and photos over at fanny pack snackers . Check it out!

Having said all our goodbyes, cleaned out our cozy little home for the past year, wiped the sentimental tears from our eyes, and hoisted our luggage on our backs, we made our way for Seoul first thing Monday morning. We secured our Chinese Visas with no problem, were given our hepatitis shots, and had a pleasant final Korean dinner. Tuesday morning I climbed Namsan ((남산) mountain) for spectacular panoramic views of the city, and Taylor and I left with over two hours to make it to the Inchoen ferry terminal by 3:30 for our 5:00 departure. The sun was shining, our spirits were high, we were leaving Korea on a high note.

Due to some sort of engineering malfunction, however, the Number 1 Subway in the direction of Inchoen (인천) splits into two separate routes at Guro (구로). Had we known this, we would have tried to check which line the subway we got on was going to take. As it turned out, our train took a turn for Choenan (천안) at Guro (구로), not Inchoen (인천). We only realized this about 40 minutes past Guro (구로), when Taylor could finally slip out from behind our mound of luggage to see how many stops we had left before Inchoen. It was about 3:00 when we hurriedly leaped from our train to change directions. It soon became clear that continuing our current route would not get us to the ferry terminal anywhere near our 5:00 departure time. We called the ferry office, and the woman suggested that we immediately hop in a cab and we should be able to make it in time.

The nearest subway stop basically ended at the side of a major highway, where available cabs were few and far between, and those that did exist were zipping by at high speeds. We finally hailed a taxi with a blue-eyed driver (extrmeley unusual), and through a mix of Korean, English and hand gestures, we indicated where we needed to go. The poor guy was not really familiar with Inchoen (인천), as we were about five suburbs over, so he had to call someone else for directions. Soon, however, we were moving at 100km/h towards our port destination. The only problem now was that we had not foreseen the possibility of a cross-country cab ride, and had thus disposed of most of our Korean currency. It started to look like we would make it to the terminal around 4:30, which, we reasoned, should give us just enough time to run to an ATM to pay our driver, quickly swipe our credit cards to pay for the ferry tickets, and sprint across the waiting gangplank onto our China-bound fairy. Spirits were again lifting.

City traffic slowed us down, and then Taylor thought she saw a sign pointing towards the terminal in a different direction from that in which we were heading. We soon started seeing signs in our direction, and things again looked good. Upon arrival at the terminal, however, we were informed by a random passerby (terminal employee?) that we were at Terminal 1, when in fact we needed to be at Terminal 2, which was across town. Back through the traffic we headed, towards the sign Taylor had previously seen. As it was now past 4:30, my pessimistic side fully took over. Our driver felt the pressure too, and I hope he wasn't too stressed out, driving through rush hour traffic in a strange city, with two very anxious foreignors in the back seat.

When we arrived, Taylor arranged for a split won (원), dollar payment at a high exchange rate. We sprinted into the ferry terminal at quarter to five to be received by nothing but befuddled faces that we thought there was any possibility of us getting on the 5:00 boat (for which we had reservations).

Exhausted, irritable, and totally bummed out, we had to sit down and regroup, consider our options. The next boat didn't leave until Thursday, so we basically had two days on our hands. No option seemed bearable; Inchoen (인천) is not a real treat of a destination, getting back on the subway for another ninety minutes back to Seoul was kind of pointless and extremely unpleasant, and going back to Daejeon (대전) for two days with our tails between our legs wasn't particularly enticing either. In the end, after we had calmed down a bit, we reasoned that the only rational thing to do was to get a love motel room in Inchoen (인천) and wait it out for two days. The woman at the information desk gave me very detailed directions of how to get from where we were to a central district where we could stay.

That route took us to a busstop right in front of an E-Mart (giant grocery store), and we both agreed that before climbing onto another mode of transportation, we needed to sit out in front of the E-Mart and drink a beer. When I came out with the beers and a snack, Taylor had busted out the guitar, and we made a little party out of our unfortunate circumstances. I even wrote the better part of a song about our troubles that day. The sitting, beer, music, and attention from E-Mart shoppers brightened our moods quite a bit, and by the time we checked into the Royal Motel (로얄모텔), we were both ready to fully joke about the fact that we had missed the boat.


Letter to Nancy Pelosi

August 22, 2007
Daejeon, Republic of Korea
Speaker Pelosi,

I would say it has been about a year now since I first felt the tinge of excitement and anticipation that just maybe the tide of absurd neglect of reason, morals, logic and decency was beginning to ebb. From this same seat halfway around the world, I watched with childlike excitement as you and others from around the United States vowed to veer off of the path towards destruction that our country has taken over the past seven years. The feeling was almost palpable; the strength was gathering, we were right, and finally, perhaps we would win.

I look back now, and I contrast that feeling with the sense of betrayal, exhaustion, and disillusionment that I feel now, and I find it hard to believe that my side actually won in 2006. The people who were brave, bold voices for change in their campaign speeches turned out to be nothing but meager lap dogs, obsequious to the ruling oligarchy of Cheney, Inc. And you, speaker, seem to have taken the role of Alpha Female in that pack of subservient drivellers, beating the others into submission in order to bask in the warm affections of Bush et al.

Now, I did not vote for you in 2006 (I voted for Bill Winter in Colorado’s Sixth District, who unsurprisingly was stomped by card-carrying National Socialist Tom Tancredo), but I did vote for a change in my country. My choice for congressional representative did not win, but a party opposite to my dire enemies did win. And so, though you do not represent me directly, you do represent my drive for ideological change, as you are at the forefront of the opposition power. As such, your representation on that front is disappointing to the highest degree.

Let’s begin with the recent enactment of Public Law: 110-55, so quaintly known as the “Protect America Act of 2007”. This piece of legislative garbage is utterly unacceptable. I would be berating some poor Republican House Speaker about this if they still had the reigns, but the fact that I have to berate you about it really irks me. The number one reason we as America voted for you and your Democratic cohorts was so that you could halt the blatant abuse of power by the Bush Administration that went unchecked by a friendly congress. The NSA wiretapping program is of course not the only (or necessarily the most harmful) abuse of power by the Bush Administration, but it is one of the most visible and attention grabbing instances of a much wider problem. For you and your brethren to win on a ticket of halting abuse of power, and then, less than one year later, give a resounding stamp of approval to one of the most publicly visible instances of said abuse is just too much for me to handle. This new law seems to actually be more vague and grant more actual power to these scumbags than the REPUBLICAN Congress even offered. This, Nancy, is not why we voted blue in 2006.

Now, let’s talk about the big “I” word. We all know that our adventure in Mesopotamia has left all of us between and very big rock and a very hard place. I grant you that. But again, we voted for you to change what is happening there. And once again, under Democratic Congressional watch, things in Iraq did change in the last year, except in the opposite direction from where we wanted you to take them. We vote for you to limit executive power, and instead you increase it. We vote for you to limit U.S. military operations in Iraq, and you allow Team Cowboy to increase it. Is there some kind of magnetic field over the District of Columbia that causes it to be perpetual “opposite day”? You Democrats have the control over all the money that is needed to finance the war. You have the final say, and we support you in saying “NO MORE!” that’s why we voted for you. Unfortunately, you guys are like the mother of the heroin junky who just can’t seem to resist giving twenty dollars to your son, even though you know it will be used for something you are wholeheartedly against. What efforts you have made to alter Iraq policy have been wholly ineffective because they know you don’t have the willpower to cut off the money.

Finally, it’s time for the other, and more important, big “I” word. It’s time to impeach these jokers, no passing go, no questions asked. Everybody says: “we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq, but now that we’re there, what can we do?” The first thing we need to do is hold the criminals who took us there accountable. Without doing this, we could end up in an (yes, it is possible) even worse situation than we are in now. If we don’t send Cheney, Bush, and all of their minions who helped conjure up the fictitious “Iraqi Menace” straight to jail, then they will continue to conjure up the “Iranian Menace”. We need to stop this situation from spreading into an all-out regional bloodbath, not cause it to do so. Furthermore, there have been so many abuses of power, beyond the Iraq nonsense, that these jerks really need to pay for their actions. If you do not enforce the laws of your country, they carry no weight. And the most important laws to enforce are those that go to the very heart of our democracy. If order is not quickly restored to the foundations of our democratic institutions, they will lose all credibility, and be democratic in name only.

With Deepest Concern,

travis h. eddy