Monday, September 29, 2008

Too busy livin' to write

Hello my friends:

I'm a story teller. I don't miss a chance to tell a story. All I need is an audience. I don't even need a subject, just an audience.

Often times folks would say "You gotta write your stories down. You gotta write a book." "Can't," I respond, I'm too busy creating more stories."

And so it is right now. Too busy. I haven't written to my blog for two weeks. Sorry, didn't know any one was out there listening (reading).

So what have I been doing? Well, family stuff, medical stuff that comes with growing old, a cheap form of cancer cells cut off my right calf, no biggie, just 20 stitches to close the cut and then only to find out the ole doc didn't get it all. Oh, well, back for more choppin'. Limits riding for a while. I could use it as an excuse to quit till it was all healed but that would be cheating as the wound does not preclude riding.

Then, before I knew it I realized I gotta get ready for a trip to Japan with a city delegation to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sister-City relationship of Bellingham with Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. I was there for their 40th celebration ten years ago and recently was very much involved with the activities organized for the visit of the delegation that came to Bellingham from Tateyama in July of this year. So on the 13th of October I will fly to Narita airport north of Tokyo, spend the night in a hotel near the airport and then join the rest of the Bellingham delegation the next day. I am flying Asiana Air Lines which goes through Seoul, Korea while the rest of the group is going by Northwest on a direct flight from Seattle to Tokyo/Narita. Since I want to stop off in Korea for a week after I leave Japan I need to fly via Asiana. In Japan I will stay in a home of a Japanese host family, sleep on the floor on the tatami mat, eat with beautiful wooden chopsticks, etc, etc, I was going to take my cycling shoes, pedals and helmet and borrow a bicycle and go riding from 6:30 a.m. until 8 a.m. daily but realized that would be imposing on my hosts so I will go out for a walk each morning instead. On the 19th of October my hosts will dress me in a Samurai costume, complete with helmet and swords which I will have to wear in the Satomi Festival, one of the major festivals of this small Japanese city. Tens of thousands of Japanese come to watch the Samurai parade and engage in activities at the local temple. I will be the six-foot 'gaijen' (foreigner) who helps them in their battles. Sounds like fun but I just found out that once in that elaborate costume one can not "relieve" oneself for many hours as the costume is not to be taken off until the end of the day. That tells me that I will not be able to indulge in four cups of coffee earlier in the day nor have any Asahi beer during the afternoon. Nuts! That's no way to treat a guest!

The Japanese are 'gift givers' and there is no way one can 'out-gift' the Japanese, so don't even try. But you gotta take gifts, lots of gifts, a separate suit case just full of gifts, but not to worry, not only will it be full when you come back you will have to purchase a second suitcase for the other items you will get as gifts. And at the airport, just before you leave your hosts and head for your security check they give you a shopping bag with more items, large items, bulky items that you will never be able to crunch into your suitcase. So there goes your plan to purchase a bottle of cognac at the duty free store as you are lacking the six arms needed to carry everything. So, learn to smile broadly, say "Domo ari gato," bow low and make like you are absolutely delighted at the ceramic tea set that you just received (the fourth on this trip.) So I am trying to assemble at least 50 or 60 gift packages. By the time I am done I will have spent $300 to $500 on gifts. By the way, while in Tateyama I will be attending a meeting of a Japanese Boy Scout troop. Does any one have any extra scout badges that I could give to boys in the troop as a gift from scouts in the USA? If so send them to me at 'George Drake, 1421 Cornwall Ave. #B, Bellingham, WA 98225."

If I just went to Japan and came home I might be able to pull it off with relative ease but I also plan to spend a week in Korea, and they, too, are gift givers, not so avid as the Japanese, but still ya gotta take some small things for your hosts, dignitaries you will meet, etc. It will be a bit easier in Korea as I will give copies of my little book "GIs and the Kids - A Love Story: US Forces and the Children of Korea 1950-1954." I will autograph the book with a flourish for my lunch or dinner host and that is good for a $100 meal ticket. In Korea it is long metal chopsticks and at least 12 (or more) plates of various kinds of kimchi on the table around your main dinner plate. I love kimchi so I am in seventh heaven at a traditional Korean restaurant. I purchased a large collection of Boy Scout stamps on e-bay several months ago to use as a gift for one of the leaders of the Korean Scouts Association. He also happens to be the head of Samsung Construction that built the billion dollar Seoul/Inchon airport. I hope to have dinner with him when in Korea and solicit his help in my current Korean projects.

What is taking so much of my time now is the protocol and the letters, e-mails, FAXs, etc. arranging appointments with folks I want to meet, e.g., the US Ambassador to Korea, the Mexican Ambassador to Korea, the Commander US Forces-Korea, the Korean Minister of Patriotism and Veteran Affairs, staff of the President of Korea, President of the Korea Welfare Foundation and a few other such types. I drove to Seattle last week to meet with the Consul General of Korea. We had a good visit. He is a graduate of a US college and speaks excellent English. My Korean is limited to finding the bathroom and getting the price for a bottle of beer, and, of course the amenities of thank you, you are welcome, etc. What I wanted of Mr. Lee was his help to get an appointment with the Minister of Patriotism and Veterans Affairs. I want the Korean government to award (posthumously) their highest military honors to two fellows in the USAF, Colonel Blaisdell and M/Sgt Strang, who saved the lives of over 950 orphans in the 'Kiddy Car Airlift' that they pulled off on 20 December 1950. During their lifetime neither got even so much as a piece of paper from the government of Korea saying 'thank you." Chaplain Blaisdell got several awards from the USAF but Sgt. Strang got nothng until I was able to move the US military bureaucracy to grant him a posthumous bronze star and also grant him the "Four Chaplains Award", the highest award of the USAF Chaplain's Service, 53 years after the rescue. Now I am banging on he door of the Korean bureaucracy for similar awards for these two great unsung heroes of the Korean War. I want that award announced at the ceremony I am organizing in Gwangju, South Korea in May of next year.

I also want Consul General Lee to use his good office to get me an appointment with someone in the Blue House (Korean White House) so I can try to convince them that the President of Korea should attend the ceremony I am organizing in Gwangju. I also want them to get the President to agree to autograph 20 copies of a poster that I am having made to announce that ceremony which I will sell for $1,000 each. I'm shameless and, you know, I might actually even be able to pull it off! At least I'm gonna try.

I already have been able to get an appointment with the Mexican Ambassador to Korea. I will host him and the Agregado Cultural (Cultural Affairs Officer) at a breakfast meeting on the 23rd of October at one of the 5-star hotels in Seoul. There will be five of us at the table so there is another $300-400 dollars shot. But you gotta do wot ya gotta do to achieve your goal. I will be asking the Mexican Ambassador, His Excelency Arellano, to host a reception for my friend the great Mexican sculptor SEBASTIAN when he arrives in Korea next May for the dedication of the sculpture he is donating to Gwangju to serve as the Korean War Children's Memorial honoring the U.S. servicemen and women for their humanitarian aid to the children of Korea during that war. That sculpture is valued at $750,000 and will be the first by SEBASTIAN in Korea. I also want Ambassador Arellano to agree to attend the dedication ceremony in Gwangju in May. If he agrees to attend then I can use that to leverage the US Ambassador to Korea also to attend which will put pressure on the Commander of US Forces, Korea to attend and, if I work it right , the President of Korea will also be there. Now that takes a little bit of chutzpah ('cajones' en espanol) as I am doing all this with no money other than my social security check and retirement annuity from college teaching. I keep getting the sense that my wife is a bit annoyed with my ability to spend money we don't really have.

As if all this isn't enough I have to raise the money to bring the sculpture from Mexico City to Korea. That will be about $7,000 but I have a number of ideas of where I will be able to get that money. Then there is the book. Yup, I'm working on having a book published in time for the dedication of that sculpture. It will be a book of 'thank you' letters from Korean War orphans whose lives were saved by American servicemen and women in the Korean War. My plan is to inundate the Korean media with requests that they send out a call for such letters from the former 'war child' of Korea, their children and grandchildren, friends and just ordinary Koreans who want to show their appreciation for the acts of kindness shown by our 'Army of Compassion.' From my collection of over 2,000 photographs of the GIs and the children of Korea during the war years we will select pictures for the book. I already have about 20 letters we can use from the time of the war so the book is underway. The one I received from Eddie Cho is printed elsewhere on this blog. Now I want about 200 more such letters. The book will be published in Hangul (Korean) and English and will be available in Korea and the US. One letter will be selected as best of all those submitted and the author will be invited to read their letter at the ceremony in Gwangju in May. Hopefully the book will be out by then also...a mere six or seven months time frame for writing a book and getting it published, ouch!

Then we have to find the appropriate location for the placement of the Korean War Children's Memorial sculpture, discuss details of the bronze plaques to be affixed to the base, etc, etc, etc. Ah, yes, lots to accomplish in the 8 days I will be in Korea. At the same time I will be lugging around all those wonderful Japanese gifts! ;-) My energy will be sustained by Korean beer and kimchi. Aaaaah. Sounds good to me.

Today I sent off my critique of a manuscript of a book I have been reviewing on the life of an incredible Canadian sculptor, David Marshall, who was a good friend of mine. Here is one paragraph from that letter:

"Overall I think the book is GREAT! I loved David and he knew it. He knew how much I admired his incredible craftsmanship and his drive for perfection. He accepted my offers to a degree. That conservative streak and distrust of galleries almost killed the one-man show I was preparing for him at Big Rock Garden Park. He was VERY difficult to work with when it came to selling or even showing his art. He was his own worst enemy in that regard but I felt that with knowing him I got to know one of the great artists of this century. No hype, no glitzy pamphlets, no jumping front stage, just long hours of hard work seeking to present his art to the world. He eschewed publicity. He was the most self-effacing person I have ever known. Yet he knew he was good, not in an egotistical sense but rather as a master craftsman and artist appraising his own work. I take real joy and pride in having been a part of his life. gfd
When I was owner (with my wife) of the "Gardens of Art - Gallery of Fine Art for the Garden" in the acreage next to our house here in Bellingham I was showing the owner of a major Japanese corporation around the gardens. He spotted one of Marshall's works and asked about it. I told him that David's work was not popular. He did not produce for the market. He produced art to meet his own sense of what a work of art was and that began with incredible craftsmanship which he used to effect the shapes he sought in the sculpture. Nonetheless, I told him, after one or two centuries this work will still stand as the finest presentation of this genre of art. "How much?" I was asked. "$12,000" I responded. He did not say anything until about 300 ft. further on he noted another large bronze work and asked "Is this also by Marshall?" "Yes." "How much?" "$19,000." "I'll take this one." and he moved on as though he had just purchased a bunch of radishes in a grocery store. David was flabbergasted! He had never sold anything for more than $2,000 before that sale. But then, he never really tried. He was not making art for sale. He was making art because he was driven to do so and selling it was inconsequential to his mission in life. Read the book "Shakespeare in Rehab" to know more of this type of person, an absolutely unique individual who, to me, epitomized what the creative process is all about."

So, forgive me, if in these last few weeks I have been living more stories rather than writing them. I may get a couple more posted before I head off to play Samurai warrior in Japan or hustle the 'honorables' and 'excellencies' in Korea. Life is a 'kick.' I'm enjoying it. Tomorrow bodes to be a beautiful sunny day and I think I will put all thoughts of wot's on my task list in the desk drawer and go to the mountains with Mary Ann. After all, it is a sin not to be outdoors on a day like that, and I am not a sinner.

Sayanara. gfd

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