Wandering (Heart and) Seoul

Two months ago, I set off on a journey that would take me across the U.S. by plane, train, and automobile and eventually land me here in the bustling city of Seoul, South Korea. After years in social justice advocacy, education, and activism, I called a timeout, left my job, sold my things, stuffed a few boxes in friends’ garages and attics, took my cat to my parents’ house, and said goodbye (for now) to friends, loved ones, colleagues, and a city I’d called “home” for over ten years. I told myself I was “leaving the movement,” like this fellow activist now living in Panama. I would wander the world, and I would breathe, and I would write, and I would get back in touch with the parts of me I’d pushed away for the sake of the greater good.

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The decision to leave came from a sense of desperation. The world’s weight was too much, the work we were trying to do was too much, and I felt trapped under it. It felt like doing something drastic was my only hope. Continue reading “Wandering (Heart and) Seoul”

Noli Timere: On Korea Pride, Orlando, and Learning to Not Be Afraid

Saturday a week ago, I went to my first Korean Pride festival in Seoul. It began before noon, and despite my propensity to run on “queer time,” my friend Suzanne (who was visiting from San Francisco) and I managed to jump on the subway in time to make it to the festival’s opening. We came prepared with rainbow gear–suspenders for me and a tie for Suzanne, which we kept tucked in pockets and bags, ready to don when we got there.

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Photo courtesy of Suzanne Vargas.

As we rode the escalator out of the City Hall subway stop to the plaza where the festival was being held, our ears were met by loud, joyous music and our eyes by the sight of hordes of police officers wearing neon yellow vests. As celebratory as the music sounded, we soon realized that it was coming from a vocal group of anti-LGBTQ protesters gathered just outside of the subway station exit, singing songs about 예수님 (Jesus) and 하나님 (God) and holding signs about our salvation, urging us to turn away from our sin.

It was like South Carolina all over again. That final stretch of the SC Pride Parade in Columbia with lines of glum-faced protesters holding signs condemning us to hell. The first hill of the Upstate Pride Parade where preachers held out Bibles and yelled verses into the rainbow-filled crowd. Story after story from my friends–of the church’s condemnation, of religious parents kicking out their LGBTQ kids, of Christians claiming they could “pray the gay away.”

The protesters were loud, and more across the street were less joyous–yelling in Korean on loudspeakers with words I didn’t know but a message I could understand. Continue reading “Noli Timere: On Korea Pride, Orlando, and Learning to Not Be Afraid”

A Channel of Peace

Written a few days ago, in a small notebook, on a quiet bench underneath the trees. (Post dated to match when it was written.)

I’m sitting inside a Buddhist temple in Japan, listening to the rain fall through the leaves. We thought about skipping the temple today because of the weather but decided it might be quieter if we went in the rain anyway–so we bought umbrellas at a Family Mart (one of the many convenience stores that dot both Japan and Korea) and finagled some train tickets and headed out from the station to a small town about 20 or 30 minutes outside of Fukuoka.

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I’ve been really grateful for Keyes’ skills during this part of the trip–they doubt their Japanese skills sometimes, but so far, they’ve been great. I also hope that this quiet time at the temple can help my inner introvert recharge. I’ve never traveled this long with someone, and while Keyes has humored my changes in temperament, I fear I’ve gotten a shorter and shorter fuse with them–and I realize it’s probably because I haven’t taken much alone time (even though they’ve offered it). (Note to self for future travels: If traveling with friends and loved ones, build in some solo time every few days.) Keyes has been patient with me, though, which I appreciate. Just trying to return the kindness by working my way back to being kind.

So here we are. Just outside of Fukuoka, the sound of the train rumbling by and disappearing. Rain on leaves, slipping into streams that flow down the mountain. Perhaps the first actual quiet we’ve since we stood on Vargas Plateau in California. Quiet. And present. And here.

2016-06-04 19.15.33.jpgAnd yet, part of the reason I need this here-ness is because my thoughts have been both in the past and on the future. Continue reading “A Channel of Peace”