2003 is effectively over, and tonight I’ll begin 2004 here in Jerusalem with Becky. I’m amazed at how much has changed this year, and this strange culmination of it only serves to reinforce my amazement. There’s been many days in the past few months when I’ve yearned for a return to the relatively simple & comfortable existence I had back in Cleveland, but that’s impossible. I’ve made the decision to go, and the only real choice I have now is how far to take my life, which way to go from here… because there’s no going back, there never really was.
The last coupla days I’ve been kinda sick again — today I’m feeling better but Becky is feeling sick. We’ve still been seeing the city, however…
I left off on Monday at the Old City, yes? The Old City is the historic part of Jerusalem where Jesus hung out and was killed, and it is one of the oldest and most spiritually significant places in the world. Much of it consists of a maze-like series of stone walkways, many of them with vendors selling everything from tee-shirts to menorahs to (many) hookahs. Despite the visible elements of modernity here and there, it really looks and feels like the place where Jesus walked — it feels ancient, and it looks like the set in a movie about Jesus. We wandered around in there for several hours, bought falafel from a stand, stopped in the church that (some say) stands on the place that Jesus was crucified, and ended up at the Western Wall.
The Western Wall (aka The Wailing Wall), is the last remaining part of the Temple Mount (Second Temple), and is considered to be one of the most important religious sites in the world. It is segregated into men’s and women’s sides, and all men are required to wear head covering to enter — so I had to wear one of the paper keppa provided at the entrance. The area near the wall is intense — Jews, mostly hasidic & orthodox, rocking back and forth and praying by the wall, some with their faces pressed up against the wall… the sound creates an almost constant drone of prayer. The experience of being amongst all that religious fervor is really amazing — I could feel it, the belief, or something… it was almost tangible, it gave me chills. I walked up and touched the wall, and it felt like one would expect a very old wall would feel, except with a strange vibration… like history, or religion, or perhaps years of infused significance. I was moved, and I left shaken.
Being in Jerusalem feels much like walking into a CNN newscast, which essentially means that it is surreal and amazing and a bit scary all at the same time. There’s also this feeling that one is in the heart of something, and that if you listen really carefully you’ll actually be able to hear the sound of it beating.
Yesterday I went with Becky to her school, but due to security constraints I waited for her in a coffeehouse near campus. There’s a security person at the door of the coffeehouse who searches through your bags as you enter, but I still tried to sit as far from the front as possible and to be an anonymous newspaper reading espresso drinking person.
After Becky’s class we took a bus, a public Jerusalem bus, which Becky assured me was safe as this particular bus had never been blown up before. Instinct made me eye every passenger who got on and got off for the duration of the trip, although logic told me that if a suicide bomber decided to get on that there was little I would be able to do to avoid anything, short of ducking. I saved my ticket. We took the bus to East Jerusalem, which is where all the Arab-Israelis live, and to the Arab entrance to the old city — The Damascus Gate. I’ve never had the experience of walking through a place like East Jerusalem before, and it was then that I realzed that I was most definitely in the Middle East. I hate to keep bringing up the news, but as we were weaving our way in and out of women wearing khimar and men wearing the cloth and ringlet I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen all this on TV so many times, and how strange it is to be walking through it all.
More later, and before…
While I understand its necessity, the security I’ve encountered in my less than 24 hours here has been a bit unsettling. Young soldiers with machine guns slung on their backs patrol the city streets, the hotel I stayed in last night only had one entrance that you had to be physically let in through, and the shuttle I took to pick-up Becky (here) at the airport got stopped and searched at the entrance by another machine gun wielding soldier. If it weren’t for these things, I reckon Tel Aviv would seem much like most other cities, but with these things it takes on a whole new feel. Tension — don’t forget where we are, everyone, here’s a man with a machine gun to remind us all.
I’m waiting at the airport for Becky’s flight to arrive in about 45 minutes or so. I desperately need a cup of coffee — jetlag is taking its toll on my internal clock.
I like it here, by the way… I like it a lot.
It’s Sunday morning and I’m in my hotel room in Tel Aviv. I arrived late last night in the rain, and after passing through the additional security & customs checkpoints at the airport, I took a taxi to my hotel here on the Mediterranean coast. While I can’t actually see the Mediterranean Ocean from my hotel room, I walked down the hall earlier and saw it — very blue, it was.
The weather today is beautiful — I’ve got the window of my hotel room wide open and am wearing a tee-shirt. It hardly feels like late December, but that’s really ok. I don’t know how hot it gets here in the summer, but I could really get used to winters like this.
Damn this flight is long — I feel like I’ve been on this plane forever, but we’re apparently still six hours from Istanbul, after which I’ve got another two hours to Tel Aviv. I’d sleep, but I’m trying to avoid horribly jet lag by not sleeping until I get to my hotel, which should be around midnight (Tel Aviv time). May be tough — I’m already feeling a bit groggy.
I’m watching the end of a sunset over the mountains of Kazakhstan (I think). Only the outlines of the mountains are visible, surrounded by orange then yellow then green then blue — all melting into one another. In the dark blue/black of the sky, just above the wing, there’s a crescent moon. It’s hard to tell if the sun is setting or rising, as we effectively flying back in time seven hours… perhaps it’ll just remain like this for a while.
At long last I am on my way to Israel, on a Turkish Airlines flight cruising somewhere over China or Kazakstan. Once again I got lucky and scored a whole row to myself, which makes long flights like this one remarkably more tolerable. I’m not sure if I could manage to share personal space with a stranger for twelve hours, so I’m praying for the same seating allotment on my return flight.
I really wish they could do something about the seemingly incessant dinging that goes on during airplane flights. It’s such an antiquated sound, and an even more antiquated system. It woud seem to me that, considering the technological age we live in, someone could come up with something better than an annoying ding and a flashing light for calling flight attendants.
In flight movie = Seabiscuit. It could be worse, but it could also be much better.
Merry Christmas, everyone… I’m doing my best to pretend that Christmas is actually on Sunday, when I’ll be celebrating it in Israel. Alas, the media won’t allow me this simple delusion, so I sit here in my apartment in South Korea pining for home.
Christmas Eve in South Korea… didn’t see this one coming, either.
My cold is subsiding, although elements of it still linger in the form of extreme fatigue and a seemingly endless snot supply. I’m making coffee at night so I can wake up for the Christmas Eve party I’m headed to in about an hour. I haven’t drank booze in almost two weeks, but I plan to tonight… should be interesting and perhaps refreshing. Booze kills sick, yes?
We celebrated Christmas at the institute today — a big party and presents for the Kindergartners, games and candy for the older kids. As the only male teacher I was a shoo-in to wear the Santa costume, which I did — sans beard (too itchy). Skinniest Santa ever, but it worked out ok as the costume was designed for Korean proportions.
Is a strange feeling being so far from home on Christmas — bad in a tragically homesick way, but good in an empowering and personal growth way. Mostly bad, though… it’s really easy to appreciate how wonderful spending Christmas with one’s family is when one is unable to do so. I’m not depressed, but I probably would be were I not preparing to go to Israel in three days.
I learned today that there is a popular Korean beverage that is essentially carbonated milk — it’s half soda and half milk. They sell it at the stores in a pop bottle, and it is white. I also learned that many Koreans enjoy eating deep fried hard boiled eggs, which is exactly as it sounds.