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Past and present: an update from the future. [Mar. 8th, 2007|10:23 pm]
I'm not very good at unconditionally loving things I make, and it dawned on me today that maybe this is the real reason why I'm so terrified of ever producing a child. Or maybe it's because I'm finally enjoying a little financial liberty and I'm too selfish to give that up just yet.

Our replacements have arrived. They're a newly-married Canadian couple. She's a fish-eating vegetarian and he's tall and thin, with dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses. The other teachers are already arguing over who'll get Jim's sweet corner desk when we go.

I'm too, too tired to pack. I'm forgetting where I've put things.


Gottingen Street is like a graveyard of places I've loved: the El Strato, the homes/shops on the corner of Falkland, and now the North End Diner.


When I walked out of my school to go home at lunchtime, I actually heard a rooster crowing nearby. I whipped out the cell to call Jim and tell him about this, and we chatted as I walked down a long road that divides two large, industrial rice fields, to the bus stop. The flimsy bus shelter was an oasis - it is so much windier and colder than what we'd been experiencing here. Just two weeks ago, we saw cherry blossoms. The walk to my school's bus stop is a 10 minute brisk walk from the school's front door. Usually the bus comes around in the wrong direction first, goes about five minutes down the country road, then comes back toward town. I begged the driver to let me hop on going the wrong way, I was so desperate to get on and get warm, but nope. "It's five more minutes in the rice field in your clicky-heeled boots, missy," he said. Or words to that effect. In Korean, of course.

When the bus finally comes in my direction, I get on and join the ajummas heading into town for the afternoon. It takes about 20 minutes to get to shinae (the old downtown), where I get a coffee that tastes more like something branded as coffee, than coffee itself. Then I get on another bus to take me back out of town in the other direction, toward the university. Then I find the wobbly path from the bus stop, through another rice field, past a small dump (I think it's a dump), and climb the hill to our 9th storey apartment. Which is double the size of the apartment we had before, with a lovely view, and was decorated entirely in a grey-and-mint-green patterned wallpaper, floor, and trim. And I figure out how much it'll cost to fly home when the summer comes.
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Returning to the land of the constructive. [Jan. 21st, 2007|06:12 pm]
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Fame and Sympathies [Jan. 17th, 2007|11:02 pm]
Australia's Herald Sun newspaper is reporting that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are moving to New Orleans. Excerpt:

According to Us Weekly, the movie star pair moved to the Big Easy on January 11 and have bought a $US3.5 million ($4.48 million), six-bedroom mansion in the city's French Quarter. It is the fourth house owned by the couple.

One diner at a Decatur Street restaurant told the magazine he saw Jolie quietly mixing with the locals the day after she and Pitt moved to town.

Us Weekly cites unnamed sources as saying Jolie planned to keep a low profile in her new home town, where Pitt is on location shooting his latest film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

"She's interested in befriending normal mums so she can do things with the kids," one source told the magazine.

The couple also hoped to raise awareness for the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast region, the source said.

So, if Us Weekly is to be believed, they moved to NOLA the very day the local citizens rallied together and had a huge, nationally-covered demonstration protesting the lack of action by city officials and the escalating murder rate. The mixed reaction I usually have to this particular awareness-raising celebrity couple just amplified itself a whole lot. I have no sufficient way of sorting this out in my head right now. The intentions are good, right?
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World's smallest world. [Jan. 16th, 2007|08:31 pm]
The weekend before last, I wound up back on Halifax time. After weeping on and off at work on Friday, I sort of went online and stopped sleeping. I talked to lost friends, reporters, organizers, family. Finally, around 7am on Saturday, I collapsed on the bed for a nap. I'm pretty sure someone started convincing me in my sleep that if I could only stay asleep until 1:30pm, that I'd wake up to find out that the unfathomable bad news I'd heard the day before wasn't real. When I actually did wake up - around 1pm - I only felt regret for waking up. This cycle repeated itself for the next 40 hours.

By Sunday evening, we were so grateful to feel tired that we just fell asleep. Without remembering to set the alarm. The phone woke us up on Monday.

"Becka," the strained, dismayed voice said, "it is 9:35. You have a class now." It was my supervisor, who was utterly confused at why two teachers with spotless attendance records simply failed to report for duty. Oh my God, my students had no teacher right then. I'd had nightmares about such a moment all year.

More slight weeping in class. It was so, so hard to control - seeing those sweet, eager kids, feeling their potential for life, and thinking of how unjust life can be. I had no idea how much this was going to keep hitting me.

Jim and I pulled the school's manager aside. "My friend who was like family to me was killed last week," I began. Then I think Jim started talking. Because I suddenly didn't know where to go with it. The manager excused himself and came back two minutes later with, "OK, I'll call my travel agent. The supervisor will schedule everyone else to sub in for your classes this week. You can go." Jim looked at me and I started trying to talk about money. "We'll just figure it out, don't worry right now, just make sure you can get there," he said.

By 4:00pm Monday afternoon, I had an electronic ticket in my hand. A few hours later I was buying small packages of kimchi for my hosts in Columbia. And a couple hours after that, I was watching Tuesday morning's sun come up over the east coast of Korea, from the plane I'd just boarded. About 14 hours later, I watched the same Tuesday morning sun come up over Sioux Falls. Then I was in Chicago. Then I was in South Carolina.

I got off the plane with just about enough time to drop off my bags at my host's, before dashing to the funeral home. At the airport, a middle-aged man asked me (in a southernlike, gentlemanly way) if I needed shuttle service. He was a little cagey about revealing the fare, so I was wary. With little time to lose, though, and no cabs left, I decided to go ahead with him. On the way into town, he told me he was an artist. An animator, actually. Originally from Louisiana.

From that point on, for the next four days, it was a swirl of seeing folks I hadn't seen in about six years, meeting folks I'd only ever heard about, and thinking about one dear, dear friend who I'll never get to see again on this earth. Then early Saturday morning, before 5am, I sat out by the tree that had been sort of decorated into a shrine and watched the candle with her name on it flicker while I waited for my ride to the airport. It felt like only a few hours later, I was back on the other side of the planet, where it was Sunday night.

I went back to work the next morning.
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If you want to sing out, sing out. [Jan. 6th, 2007|06:05 pm]
Many of you who know me/Jim who read this probably already know about our travel blog, but just in case some of you don't, that's really where I'll be posting more 'public' type remembrance stuff about Helen. Like badly digitized super 8 footage of her on a mission to charm a somewhat-curmudgeonly (but seemingly gooey on the inside) film lab owner in the industrial park recesses of Calgary in 1999. And as many stills and frames as I could find - mostly taken at our last visit with them about a year ago.

Seriously, it's time to get out and love more.
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LOVE [Jan. 5th, 2007|01:10 pm]
Goodbye, so long... farewell for now
You're gonna leave a big hold 'round here
But it's up to us to fill it up again somehow,
Up to us to fill it up again somehow.

You lived each day as if it was your last
May you have so many more more more
If we only will it, it will come to pass
If we only will it, it will come to pass.

-- Al Tuck, in his tribute song to Paul Gailiunas and Helen Hill, on the occasion of their leaving Halifax to move back to New Orleans, December 2000.


Subject: birthday hello from The Crescent City
To: "Becka Barker"



It just turned 2007 in New Orleans. The fireworks are
booming and crackling all around and it sounds like
Mogadishu outside. We had a fun night, eating out at
The Praline Connection (the only place in town where
the collard greens aren't cooked in pork fat), and
then stopping by three parties before Francis Pop
collapsed from exhaustion.

New Orleans is very interesting, still so decrepit and
sketchy. But we're enjoying the new neighborhood
we're in, with lots of coffeeshops and a nice park
where lots of cool little kids play. Francis Pop and
I now have a weekly ritual of dancing in front of The
Spotted Cat to either The Rites of Swing, Washboard
Chaz, or The Panorama Jazz Band. Francis is such a
precious and funny little guy. I enjoy every single
second of watching him grow.

Please e-mail us your phone number so we can try to
call you in the morning. Love to you and Jim!

Paulie and family.


I can't think of any way to write how I feel about Helen Hill any differently from what's already been said, but of course, I want to say something. Especially since we're so far away and we can't physically be with our friends. I guess there's some kind of comfort in seeing so many tributes to her being put out there, on the internet, so quickly - the world just really, really, really needs to know about her... to understand how she helped so many, and in so many different ways. It needs to be said that her motivation has always been love. I feel like everyone in the world needs to hear about this, and feel this, because the event of her death is a precise example of the kinds of problems in the world that she and Paul worked so hard to counter. They got it, better than anyone I think. Helen knew that the only way to break down the oppressive forces that keep people sad, that keep people poor, that keep people on the outside, that make people act in desperate and sometimes hateful ways, was to be unyieldingly generous and unfailingly inclusive - to feed the world with as much love as she could give it - to create positive changes in her communities. Of all the things she taught me, that's the biggest and most important. All demonstrated by the example of how she lived her life. No one was worthless of her attention and care.

I remember driving around with Helen and Paul, my first time visiting them in New Orleans. This was about 18 months after they'd left the home they made on Falkland Street in Halifax. They were looking to buy their first home in NOLA. Top considerations: must be in a neighbourhood that's highly socially integrated, must be generally safe, must be not-too-fancy, must have enough space for all their letters, art supplies, zines, books, films, music, and pets. As we toured several homes, we'd run into some of the more "down and out" folks they knew. We'd pull up to the curb, have a chat, and introduce me to each person in a completely socially-level way. If any of these folks were looking sick, or like they weren't quite lucid, Paul and Helen would fish out a bottle of water and scrounge around the car for some food to offer. It was never a big production to do that kind of thing, for them. They just wanted to make things better for people who didn't have it as good as they did.

When I phoned my mother to share this horrible news, one thing she said was, "I always worry about this kind of thing, with you - because you are so far away..." and even though I don't want to take away from her caring intentions, I couldn't help but think, "Don't worry about that! Worry about WHY anyone would be in such desperate straits that they'd feel compelled to kill my friend! Worry about WHY New Orleans still hasn't received enough support - after 16 months! - to rebuild itself as an even better, culturally dynamic city! Worry about those who don't have what they need to get by! Worry about how we'll ever be able to put together enough love to make up for all the love Helen gave to the world every day!" It does no good to wish your loved ones into protective boxes. Let's get out and give. Let's do right by our neighbours. Maybe if we all lived and loved fearlessly, we'd all be much safer, in the end.

Helen, you'd be embarrassed to know how dearly you are missed, and you'd argue me on this point forever, but you are absolutely irreplacable.
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Meme of the Year [Dec. 17th, 2006|01:24 pm]
Questions borrowed from Audra's lj:

1) Where did you ring in 2006?
Cozied up in a chalet in Western NB with Jim... and his parents.

2.) What was your status by Valentine's Day?
Content in love, frazzled in nearly every other way.

3.) Were you in school (anytime this year)?
Yep, teaching at a private academy.

4.) How did you earn your keep?
Speaking English slowly, clearly, and with lots of repetition.

5.) Did you have to go to the hospital?
Just for a check-up. 'Cause that's how they do it here.

6.) Did you encounter the police?

7.) Where did you go on vacation?
Seoul in July and Beijing in October.

8.) What did you purchase that was over $500?
A video camera.

9.) Did you know anybody who got married?
Lilli and David... though that's not for another 13 days! Also, the couple we replaced at our school, Ian and Susan (just yesterday).

10.) You know anybody who passed away?

11.) Have you run into anybody you graduated high school with?
Yep, on our final "farewell NB tour" in January.

12.) Did you move anywhere?
Oh my God, it's pretty well the only thing I talked about all year!

13.) What sporting events did you go to?
I've seen exactly one of each of the following: pro baseball, pro soccer, and pro basketball (Korean leagues).

14.) What concerts did you go to?
January: one last show at the Khyber with the Just Barelys/Death by Nostalgia/Yellow Jacket Avenger. July: a big music festival with Franz Ferdinand and the Korean Hedwig and the Angry Inch. October: a Chinese indie/punk show with The Ks, The Misfits, and one other band whose name I forget now. Yikes, not a big year for live shows.

15.) Are you registered to vote?

16.) If so, did you do your patriotic duty on Nov. 7?

17.) Where do you live now?
In a two-bedroom apartment, in a highrise, in amongst dozens of other highrises, in a southeastern industrial city, on a recently-nuclearized peninsula in northeast Asia.

18.) Describe your birthday.
Overall, quiet. My father-in-law got me an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen that read "Happy Birthday Bacca".

19.) What's the one thing you thought you would never do but did in 2006?
Finish my film!

20.) What is one thing you regretted this year?
My costume selections for the five year-olds in our end-of-year show. Seriously, from the catalogue pictures they looked more like "baby punk rock" and less like "baby fetish wear", which was what they turned out to be. Eeks.

21.) What's something you learned about yourself?
That, for as many professional projects I enjoy pursuing, I'm just not career-driven. At least, not right now.

22.) Any new additions to your family?
Marco and Kelly, my siblings' significant others! Who I'm dying to meet!

23.) What was your best month?
October was awesome, as usual: anniversary, big trip, did some major writing, hit my stride in teaching, perfect weather.

24.) What from pop culture will you remember 2006 by?
Yikes, this question just sounds awkward. Anyway, answer: probably the weird ways in which western mainstream pop stuff filters through here.

25.) How would you rate this year with a scale from 1 (shitty) to 10 (excellent)?
For love: 10. For money: 10. For everything else: 6.
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Things that aren't weird anymore. [Dec. 11th, 2006|08:58 pm]
Veering to the left (not the right) when meeting a pedestrian on the street.
Craving anything with hot red pepper as comfort food.
Wedging myself onto very, very full buses.
Pointy heels as default footwear.
Wiping hands with a warm wet cloth before eating at a restaurant.
Expecting pop for free with meals at restaurants.
Being way less talkative.
Writing letters and sending packages.
Dancing girls in plastic legwarmers at grand openings of stores.
The lack of gallery openings and art events as a regular part of my weekly schedule.
Water all over the washing machine room floor when the machine drains.
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Vaguely Organized Yarn (Deuro and Apro) [Nov. 26th, 2006|01:29 pm]
Ulsan has many yarn shops. Most are tiny little closet-sized spaces, about 10x8, with sliding frosted glass doors. And most days, they're filled with older women (ajummas) sitting in a circle on the floor, crafting up a storm. Most of the spots I've seen had obviously settled into place many years ago. At first, I didn't even think they were stores - just some sort of private clubs. As an obvious outsider, it made me doubly shy to venture in and inquire about yarn.

Enter my friend and co-worker, Heather. She's a knitter, and her mother owns one such shop. Yesterday, she took me there. It's a lovely little hideaway, at the edge of a popular weekend street-market. The walls are stacked floor to ceiling with vaguely organized yarns, half-covered with finished projects hanging over them. There's no cash register, and the odd dimensions of the place make one corner to look more like a tiny stage, crowded with craft odds and ends - the kinds of things that are probably invisible to regulars by now. After picking out and paying for our supplies, we tucked ourselves into the tiny corner sectional and proceeded to start in on some mittens. My non-Koreanness revealed itself mostly through my double-point needles. It seemed equally strange to me that knitters here almost always, always use round needles (even for scarves!). Methods were otherwise the same, though - alternating "deuro" (뜨로) with "apro" (아프로) stitches makes for nicely ribbed cuffs.

Call it the Sesame Street influence of my childhood, or the impression my old neighbourhood made on me back in Halifax, but my favourite spaces are always the ones that feel comfortably club-like, while being completely open to anyone willing to find them. Of course, feeling welcome in such a space takes more than just finding it, and I'm grateful to have a friend who could help me in bridging whatever hang-up/perceived cultural gap there was between me and the local knitting world. Most interesting to me, though, were the similarities between "typical" shops here and "alternative" shops at home.

As the hours and stitches slipped by, I met lots of folks who dropped in on the shop: Heather's cousin, her father, and even a nosy neighbour (who was trying to impress upon Heather the fact that her son was rich and unmarried - information that was met with a politely cool response). We took breaks to wander the market, sip tiny dixie-cup coffee drinks and snack on street-vendor pastries. We chatted about possible futures and gossiped about the undeniable present. I learned a little more Korean and Heather practiced English. Heather's mom wandered from knitter to knitter, helping pick up dropped stitches and judge gauges. Like most shops here, Heather's Mom doesn't offer formal classes or workshops - but shoppers are welcome to unlimited amounts of her expertise, if they're willing to ask.

Eventually it got dark, the street market shut down stall by stall, and knitters left one by one, including Heather's Mom. She left us the key so we could continue to hang out. It was getting pretty late when Heather and I got just past the thumb-marking stage. That's when we finally called it a night.
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Sexy Ladies from the 80s [Nov. 17th, 2006|12:32 am]
It was the first time I was invited to join my female co-workers for a drink after a long day of teaching. This was significant to me because as the only female 'native English speaker' at my school, I'd been seriously lacking in female social contact. We hit a soju bar, ate some cham-chi jjigae (tuna stew, which is far tastier than it sounds), and gossiped about work. It was divine - felt just like what I missed so much from home.

As with any good night out, we decided to move the party to a norae bang. The vibe is the kind where no one would be angry if there was a microphone hog (not that there was one). They introduced me to Korean pop tunes, I chose some English numbers they hadn't heard of. My ears perked up at one K-pop song, "Opa", which used the same melody, arrangement, and lyrical intonation as Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop". So I sang "She Bop" as a response.

My friends: Wow, I've never heard that song before! I can't believe it's almost totally the same as "Opa"!
Me: Yeah, I was wondering if you knew that one. It's a great tune, eh?
My friends: Yeah, so are they about the same thing?
Me: Uh, I dunno. What is "Opa" about?
My friends: It's about a cute boy. "Opa" means "older brother", which also means "boyfriend" for a lot of young couples, too. Is that what "She Bop" is about?
Me: Um, no. Not really.
My friends: Oh really? What's it about?
Me: It's about a young girl who was raised Catholic, and she wants to masturbate all the time.
My friends: Oh.


In a spontaneous fit of whatever, I bought a $1 plastic hairband. It perfectly matches my new green-and-brown argyle cardigan. I wore these items into my adult conversation class a few days ago. One of my students said, "oh! Like a virgin!"

"Excuse me?"

"You have a very young style today. Like a virgin... you know the song?"

"Yeah... uh, do you know what that phrase means?"

"I think so... what is the song about?"

"It's about a woman whose had a lot of sex with many different lovers, and is singing to a new lover who treats her so well that she feels like a virgin."

"So it's not about her style?"

"As in her looks? Um, not like that, no."

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