Friday, March 06, 2009


I'll round-out this week's theme with a real-life illustration taken from my long Delta Airlines flight home in January. I didn't notice this week tended toward an overarching theme until the subject of this entry occurred to me. Just goes to show how the world grows beyond my ability to plan for it. I'm surprised I noticed at all. My last round-the-world fly-day had three legs, the long middle drive from Atlanta to Korea being about fifteen-point-five hours long. One saving grace: there was an empty seat between me and the quiet, middle-aged woman who had the window. She kept to herself, was very polite, and only asked me to get up to let her by twice. It was the next best thing to having the row to myself. What's this have to do with anything? I guess it's important to remember that no matter how thoroughly someone understandings another culture, how intimately they've immersed themselves, there's still a line dividing what really is and what is merely expectation. Becoming truly receptive to what's happening under conditions of absolute alienation will require letting go of speculation. Speculation is just a prejudice which, by definition, cannot be related to the unfamiliar, right? Our very competent, intelligent Delta cabin attendant was a western Caucasian. I don't want to speculate on her story, of course, but she was certainly very fluent in Korean. She addressed the sizeable Korean population onboard as easily as she spoke to me in English. She obviously knew her stuff. But each time she spoke in Korean to my neighbor at the window, that polite and quiet woman had to explain, in embarrassed English, how she was actually Chinese and didn't speak Korean. I'm not making a big deal out of one mistake, this happened half-a-dozen times. [Cavin]

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Whenever I fly to the US I live through a thirty-six hour day. I arrive twenty-seven averaged hours after takeoff, but also later the same date. This extra time is lost in reverse, of course. Worse, since return fly-days, often operating at a headwind disadvantage heading west (wavy equals great arc), take longer than flights the other way. Seoul-to-Atlanta last December was three hours shorter than Atlanta-to-Seoul in January. The name of this entry, had I posted it back when, would have been Thurdnesday. By the way: except for some obvious recent edits, I wrote this update on that flight, deep in the wtf hours of cabin night when nobody had any idea what time it was outside the plane. I keep myself alert by trying to figure it out. It's time where instead of time when: according to my watch, its ten pm today; that's twelve hours behind my final destination, where it's ten am tomorrow; and further from my layover, where it's already noon. I'm pretty close to the Date Line, according to the TV map, but what time is it in the Aleutian archipelago? In Vladivostok? Is it daylight out there? By my arrival in Vietnam it was already almost midnight, Friday. Real time, a thirty-odd-hour day. Thursday had been basically deleted for me, eaten by one long Wednesday morning ordeal. But even real time subordinates to curve time in the sky. I stayed up all night before boarding, so by my morning layover it felt late to me. But to those people who boarded the plane in Atlanta it was a little before lunch. No matter. Two hours after takeoff dinner was served, the shutters gone down, the lights off. It was nighttime all the way through Russia whether they liked it or not. [Cavin]

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


There's very little I love more than walking aimlessly though streets teeming with exoticisms I cannot quite understand. This is a willful ignorance, meaning that I have, at times, purposefully missed opportunities to learn about the environment around me. It's just so interesting watching it freewheel in brightly-colored exclamations without justification or value beyond its differences from me. I imagine this is a fairly shameful admission of isolation, faintly lazy and colonial, a lack of commitment with my surroundings. Is it interacting when I reduce x to the sum of my alienation? When I'm done bouncing off a thousand years of culture, assimilated only to the ends of my aesthetic benefit, I'll return somewhere ironically familiar, right? But understand: were it not for the time and the money, for my thin roots and certain practicalities, I would maybe never alight at all. I'd go on freefalling through this whole oddball world with nothing to harsh my Zen beyond the mounting, jealously guarded wonder. From that I would emerge unhaunted by the usual specter of accounting for my lifetime or even any feeling of having wasted it. But whatever, because walking around this town has become insufferable. It's the nicest time of year, weather-wise, and they've gone and dug up nearly every sidewalk between here and everywhere else, replacing them with slippery cavities of stacked masonry and mud. But here's a recent Alice-in-Wonderland moment, anyway: walking through the nearby park the other night, I saw a lady hawking cartons of raw quail eggs from a shallow basket. She was attempting to sell them to the amorous teenagers who cruise the parks after hours. While I see this group as a likely target for niche entrepreneurialism, I'm not sure small and freckled raw eggs is what I'd choose to tout. [Cavin]

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


I spent forty days and forty nights over the end-of-year holidays in the United States, from the afternoon of December thirteenth to the early morning of January twenty-first. Why so long? It had only been six-and-a-half months since my last trip home (a short stint compared with Sunshine's fourteen). But it made the most sense for Sunshine's shorter vacation to include a comfortable pre-holidays interval. Then I had a couple of dentist appointments I'd made the last time I was in town. These were necessarily arranged around the dental lab's slow turnaround for two different crowns, one a replacement, which had to be completed after the New Year. So this time home just got protracted. It happens. It was a wonderful trip, too--dentistry notwithstanding. I managed to catch up with many old friends and family in Kentucky and North Carolina--folks from as far away as Vietnam, Miami, and my distant past, or as close as my home-away-from-home and friendly neighborhood bar. As much as I loved spending my first Christmas ever with Sunshine last year, our estrangement from home was anxious and guilt-making. I was glad to spend the time with my other family again this year. As adapted to the southeast Asian temperature as I've gotten--those days that seem to be temperature-free have slowly crept up the thermometer--the sporadic mild-twenties chill of NC winter didn’t bother all that much (a slight inconvenience compared with Sunshine’s weekend in frigid Minneapolis), but I did catch a tree-day cold in the midst of which I had a hygienist appointment. Those are short, I said, talking myself out of canceling. So I arrived at the dentist's to discover I had two back-to-back appointments, almost four hours, struggling in the chair with a nose I couldn't breathe through. [Cavin]

Monday, March 02, 2009


(I ended last week writing about things that happened months ago. I’m afraid that's how this week will begin.) When I count off the countries I've visited so far, I do not include Thailand or the Republic of Korea since we didn't step out of their respective airports. This was a particular shame in Bangkok, where our seven-hour layover would've been better spent fussing over visa applications with surly border officials in order to step into the Thai sunshine for an hour, then turning around to press back through invasive airport security to catch our connection on to India, than what we actually did: suffer an unfortunate day in the singularly awful new Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Our layover in South Korea's Incheon International Airport was far shorter, dwindled to under two hours after threading through transit-passenger security checks and back into the international gate. But Incheon's a great airport, indicative of ultra-modern and fashionable Seoul a short commute away. Candy-colored clothing stores and cartoon candy stores line a concourse overlooked by travelers' lounges and wellbeing parlors. It was a brisk and efficient place, clean as hell, indifferently globalized, and just packed with that urban cosmopolitan glitz I don't see back home. Alighting in South Korea was tantamount to flying into the future. I'm intrigued by Korea. It shares its only border with a hostile brother at the junction of Japan and China and Russia. It occupies a gray and wintry Asia I've never experienced. Outside the airport, the Incheon landscape--a man-made span between islands--was bleak as a highland links. Inside, in that brightly-colored future, teenage girls in overtly traditional costume worked the counter at the Authentic Korean Cultural Experience Store, but I didn't take time to go in and see what they were doing in there. [Cavin]