Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that the more I read Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale, the more I love his writing. Bennett is a 19th century novelist that I’ve never heard of, yet he should definitely be on par with say Elizabeth Gaskell. This is the story of two sisters who grow up in the same small town. Each one’s life is full of challenges, though Constance takes the familiar route of staying in her town, marrying and raising her son, while her wilder sister elopes and runs off to Paris with a cad. I’ll definitely look for more of Bennett’s books.

I was sorry, but not surprised that the Hanoi Summit between the US and North Korea did not result in a deal. I do hope that in a few years these efforts bear fruit. My heart goes out to the people who live under the DPRK regime.

My good friend Kristi is in town from France, where she lives with her husband and son. She and Max, her son, are here during his spring break to help with her step dad who’s in the hospital. I saw them on Wednesday when I picked them up at the airport and hope to have time for a good long chat this week.

We’ve had cold and ugly weather this week. We’ve got some sunshine, but often gray skies and a lot of the snow’s melted so it’s patches of snow, often dirty, mixed with patches of brown and greenish grass. I’d be fine with a few more inches of snow. It’s really too early for spring in these parts.

I’m sad that the Masterpiece/BBC Victoria series has concluded for the season. I long for the times when such a series would have more episodes. PBS doesn’t have much on the docket for Sunday nights in March.

Work on my play is proceeding slowly. I lost the latest revision. Somehow it got deleted. I do have a PDF version so I’m using that to recreate this latest draft. The loss could be worse, but it’s a pain to go back like I’m playing Chutes and Ladders.

I had high hopes for the film Shoplifters, but the ending left a lot to be desired and the characters’ lives were quite depressing. A lot of their troubles could have been avoided.

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Trump and Kim: Body Language

I love these body language analysis videos. So glad there’s one up on this latest summit.

I didn’t expect this conflict to just take two summits. I do hope one day there is peace between the two countries and that Kim makes the necessary changes to bring freedom and peace to his country and let it be part of the world.

She does say she doesn’t know why the summit would be in Hanoi. I think there was one other Asian country considered and Kim chose Hanoi.

I’ve been there and was surprised by how welcoming the people were to Americans. It seems that for the most part people have taken a “let bygones be bygones” approach to what they call the American War. (Cambodia’s the same. So’s Japan.) I attribute this to Buddhism and I suppose practicality.

As some commentators have said, Vietnam is a communist country, which does forbid religions and has a tight rein on social media, but there’s a lot of commerce. Life is comfortable as commercialism has brought prosperity.

Word of the Week

Jeong (n.) Human warmth and mutual sacrifice.

This word comes from Ask a North Korean, which I’m currently reading. It’s in a section describing the economic conditions. When you’re poor, people value jeong as the way to help others and to have the right attitude to band together and survive.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

On the DPRK

On Thursday I attended a lovely dinner as a thank you for my volunteering to interview candidates who wish to teach English in Japan. One of the other guests regaled us with stories of his trip to North Korea last year. He was the only American on his tour as this was right when Otto Warmbier died. Prior to the trip, all tourists were given a chance to get a full refund and cancel, but this young man figured as long as he followed the rules, he’d be safe.

Here are some facts I learned:

  • You must always, even in private conversation call Kim Jong-Un, the “Supreme Leader.”  His father, Kim Jong-Il, whom he succeeded, must be referred to as the “Dear Leader.” The Supreme Leader’s grandfather is referred to as the “Eternal Leader.”
  • Upon arriving at the airport, travelers go through a thorough security check of your bags.
  • Foreign travelers must use either US dollars, Euros or Chinese RMB. It’s illegal for them to have the local currency.
  • If you have a newspaper with a photo of the Supreme Leader on it, you can not fold the paper.
  • When you take a photo of a painting of poster of the Supreme Leader, you must take his full body. You can not leave out an elbow, ear, etc. It has to be 100% of what’s pictured.
  • The tour covered the countryside and there all the farm animals, mainly goats, but a few cows , were emaciated.
  • The best food he had the whole time was scrambled eggs and tomatoes. Most food was tasteless.
  • In the capital city, Pyongyang, the group stayed in a 5 star hotel, that surprisingly he said was the most luxurious hotel he’s ever stayed in. For the Japan Exchange Teaching Programme, upon arrival in Tokyo, teachers stay in a 5 star hotel so it’s not as though this man’s never stayed in a good hotel.