Excerpts from TBS Radio Interview

I was interviewed by Sara Kim on her show, Soul of Asia, at TBS 101.3 in South Korea about making films with fellow filmmaker, Albert Lee. In this segment (courtesy of Ken), I discuss the upcoming filming of The Human War

If you want to hear the actual show in its entirety, then visit eTBS Radio or tune your dials to 101.3 Mon - Sat from 11:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m..

The Haam Ceremony

Today was my haam ceremony. As a bridegroom, I was required to announce my intentions to the bride and her family by parading through the streets with an ornately wrapped box filled with wedding rings and other gifts. This box, or haam, is a ticket of entrance, but also a bargaining chip for the bridegroom and his fellow waiting men, as they ask for enticements and gifts from the women of the household for bringing such a gift and worthy suitor into the bride's home.

My waiting men consisted of So Gee's uncles, cousins, and the fearless, David Kalinowski, who wore a mask made of dried squid as was required by the chief negotiator, or so we were told.

"He must wear it!" my Aunts commanded.

"Okay," David smirked. "I'll wear squid on my face."

"You are a brave man," I said.

"Well, when am I ever going to get to wear squid on my face?" he asked.

"That's true," I agreed. "I wonder why you do it."

"Probably to save face or something."

"Save face?"

"Like because I have to ask for money or something."


We weren't sure about why there was a requirement. We were actually pretty clueless about the whole affair. That made it so much fun though. It was like being on a roller coaster. 

Before the calling of the haam could begin, I had to be dressed in a hanbok - a traditional Korean dress worn at weddings and other special occasions. This was done to me - and I literally mean to me - as I was dressed head to toe by So Gee's aunts who made fun of my hairy chest and pinched my nipples to make them come out; I have the hidden and shy kind.

David also had to be dressed appropriately as my negotiating squid man. We believe the mask serves a dual purpose in the saving face department: first, it prevents embarrassment for people who shout up and down the streets or ask for money and gifts from the bride and her family; second, it literally disguises a person with a tentacle goatee. Need we say more on the selling points of a squid mask?

As it was the beginning of the Lunar New Year, I was required to carry the haam box from the front gate (the beginning) of the apartment complex, while shouting out my intentions with the phrase "Ham sa sayo!" which translates roughly as "I got a gift box for sale!"

As David and I made our journey into the home, we were to resist going into the home by requesting more money, food, and drinks in return for our movement forward.

"Ham sa sayo!" we called. "Haaaam saaa saaaayoooo!"

"We are thirsty," David said in Korean. "We need to quench our thirst before we continue."

Drinks were provided, until my aunts decided David was too good of a negotiator and pulled out toothpicks and sewing needles to prod him into the apartment.

Once the bridegroom gets to the door of the bride's home, and before entering, the bridegroom is required to break an earthen bowl to signal a connection with Mother Earth and to ward off evil spirits from the marriage union and home.

"Ohhhhh!" everyone shouted when I shattered the bowl.

People were impressed that I could shatter what seemed like impenetrable tupperware. 

"Oh, baby," So Gee said later. "I am so impressed."

"Me too," David said. "How did you break it?"

"I don't know," I said. "I just heard 'ward off evil spirits', so I hit the thing with everything I had."

Once I entered the home, So Gee and I bowed to her parents. Then I presented them with the haam. Here I am unwrapping it. Moments after this picture was taken, the haam was lifted and put on a pot of sticky rice. I only found out later that the rice's texture and the way it cooked would be representative of So Gee and my union. 

"It was very sticky," So Gee explained later. 

"There was lots of smoke," So Gee's mother said in Korean.

"That's very good," So Gee smiled.

"Oh," I smiled back. "We got game."

Inside the haam box were gifts for the bride. They included a bridal dress, wedding rings, and a poem by yours truly.

"A poem is the greatest treasure one could give in the Persian culture," I explained to my new Korean family.

"Ahhh," they replied and nodded their heads.

After the haam was presented, I thought the ceremony was over. I was wrong though. It was just beginning. I was clued into this by my brother-in-law who simply said, "It is time for your punishment."

"Yes," my uncle agreed. "We will test you." 

Apparently, every male who helped me bring in the haam box was required to pay a fee for their services to the bridegroom's family. I am not sure what the original tradition was, but in the Kwon family, one is required to give a speech and drink bomb alcohol shots. Do I need to say that I have not had an Irish Car Bomb (drink) since I was in college? Did my father-in-law just say to do it in par three?

Before I forget, the drinking challenge was to do the bomb alcohol shots without letting your adam's apple move more than three times, or "Par three!" as my father-in-law explained. "One-two-three!"

I tried to explain that I was not ever a drinker to explain any poor showing that might result, and that I had been drinking more in Korea than I had ever done in my entire life - which is still not much - but my gripes were met with confused, blank stares. I looked into each chasm of nothingness. Then one aunt shouted in a sarcastic bravado: "So Korea has been a bad influence!" 

I felt much like Kevin Costner's character in Dances with Wolves when he had to eat the liver of a buffalo he had just killed. I couldn't explain my way out of the situation gracefully and I didn't want to disrespect anyone. So I just did it.

David was also challenged to drink in less than three gurgles. He failed the first time and was required to do it a second time. Poor guy! At least that's what I thought, until I failed as well. 

The next series of punishments were strictly for yours truly. First, I was told to do five push-ups with just my fingers. Then the ante was raised in quick succession as I progressed downward from five to three.  

When I couldn't do it with two or one, I was quickly showed up by my father-in-law. 

Later, I was advised to avoid physical challenges by a gracious aunt. 

"Don't do it!" she said gravely and with concern. The way she warned me hinted at a possible non-egoic responsibility to decline to let my elders keep face and remain healthy. I smiled and nodded my assent. If there is one thing I've learned in Korea, it's to go with what's easiest and allow for things to be as they are without changing them. If someone says do a push-up, I do it. If someone says don't do one, I don't.  

Then I was lifted into the air for the entire family to take shots at hitting the balls of my feet with a fish and - after the fish exploded - a wooden rod. I was told this was to create healthy circulation for the bride and bridegroom's wedding night.

After being put through each test and passing, my father-in-law was very happy. At least that's what I thought when he stood on his head and clapped his feet after three or four bomb shots. In fact, I would say I get along very well with my father-in-law. We are both entertainers, like climbing mountains, and can dance at request. Who could ask for more?

As the evening took its dip past merriment into stillness, my mother-in-law took So Gee and I for a walk through her courtyard. None of us spoke for a bit. Then my mother pointed to the stars. It was definitely rare to see so many in a city as polluted as Seoul.

"Look at them all," So Gee's mother admired in Korean. "Unbelievable!"

"It is beautiful," So Gee agreed.

"They must have come out after I did so much yelling," I laughed.

My mother smiled. Then So Gee and her spoke about the dream I had. She thought it was fortuitous that I saw the earth being born. It reminded her of a dream she had on her wedding night.

"That night," she explained in Korean, "I saw four mountains in every direction - north, south, east, and west. On each of them was a golden palace. I knew that my marriage would be strong after that. Now I know yours will be as well."

So Gee and I had a fun time with the haam experience. We both got to laugh a lot. Mostly, at myself. Getting married in Korea is definitely better than a big, fat Greek wedding any day!

I am now in the middle of my Haam Ceremony

We are supposed to walk around with a gift box and dried squid on our faces (the men), begging to be let in to see the virgin. David and I have no idea what's going on. Here is a pic of David and I moments before dried squid application.

"What do we do now, David?"

"We got to get the squid nice and juicy."

"I am frightened."

"The squid gods will protect us on this glorious day, and win over the virgin, so you can seduce her."

Wedding Reception Photos & Mobile Clips

Here is a link to see all the photos of the Wedding Reception by Les Waller

From what I understand,  revised and approved prints by Les are available for purchase here. Please support him by buying a few prints or hiring him for your next event in Seoul. 

David Kalinowski offers this Reception Speech courtesy of Gin's mobile.

Ken brings you what he has dubbed "Pirooz Travolta". For some reason, people think I am some kind of good dancer. In all honesty, my feet can do funny things, but you can't even see them in this video. Who knows? People get enjoyment out of this, so I don't want anyone else who has not seen this to not reap in the giggles.

Walking on the Car

I have never tried this. It might be fun. I don't know if I could pull it off. Kayvon probably could. Maybe, we will try it tomorrow.

Winter Trip to Kyungju

So Gee and Ama chillin'.

-6 degrees Celsius!

Challenged to do 50 squats by Opa!

Breakfast in Kyung ju.

Rabbit Light

I am really enjoying watching all the poetry films at Rabbit Light Movies. Most of them show poets looking out of car windows as things pass. That makes things look cool. I really like Kate Greenstreet's movie. I haven't seen all the movies though. Maybe, there is one I like better than the others. I thought Kasey's poems were the shiz-nit. I am audi.


Hero Tomorrow, Hero Today

Hero Tomorrow - Trailer

I spoke to Ted Sikora today on the phone to get some advice on The Human War movie. Ted is the director of the indie film, Hero Tomorrow. He is also very knowledgeable about making films. Thomas and I both got schooled on how to do fundraising, that every film needs Harvey Pekar in it, and that going with your heart is the best way to get a film made.

If you haven't seen Hero Tomorrow yet, please do. The film is original, set in Ohio, and has superheroes. How can you go wrong?

Tonight I will go out with friends from Hong Kong, and Singapore. Why the internaitonal crew? Well, everyone is in town to celebrate So Gee and my wedding. We'll be going out for dinner tonight, and then doing some dancing. I can't wait to dance with my wife. She is a good dancer. She is short, but I've been practicing with a limbo stick.

I will be her hero. (insert smiley face here)

Ultimate Sport: Mountain Diving!

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

My father sent this to me. I would like to try it, but I think I would be nervous the first time.

Japanese Man Swims Over Lotion-soaked Women

Clayton Banes posted this amazing clip of a man swimming across lotioned women on a Japanese game show. It made me smile.

Moving & Making & Movie: The Three M's of a New Life

I am putting the finishing touches on my suitcases before I can officially call them packed. As of today, I finally sent my paintings out to be framed by a local frame shop. The rest of the mess - a hodgepodge of tables, TVs, and wooden chairs - will be left with the landlord since friends who have wanted to claim them have yet to actually make a physical move to do so. That is why it might seem like I'm not moving at all. But aside from the disarray, I am slowly making my way to air and taking a few gulps after teaching six classes and doing production work for three films simultaneously.

What's that? Three films? Well, you heard right. I will only speak about one for the moment though. The Human War is based on Noah Cicero's novel about a young teen who reacts to the declaration of the Iraq War by questioning his friends and his relationships in Youngstown, Ohio. The script follows the novel closely, and aside from a few minor changes will reflect it nicely. We are set to shoot beginning in mid-March, while fundraising is set to begin later this week. 

I am excited to be making such wonderful material into a film. Who knows? When Thomas and I are done directing this, it just might be watchable. Keep an eye out for how you can help, audition, or help out on set. I'm all about the friends-helping-friends community atmosphere of a film, and it's something Thomas and I have talked over as a key component in our film company. 

"I like the mission statement you wrote," Thomas said. " 'To engender a culture that promotes growth, loyalty and innovation.' And that whole part about being 'supportive and encouraging environment to foster each other's talents in free and spirited collaboration.' That's good stuff."

"What about the name?"

"I like Sangha Films as a placeholder."

"Mmmm. You don't like Sarang Films? It means love in Korean."

"No, it sounds like a sarong."

"You're right. Well, at least we have a placeholder."

"Yeah, like the Beatles. You know they used peanut butter and jelly as a phrase in songs when they only had lyrics but no melody?"

"That's cool."


If anyone has ideas for a film company name, let them pour in. We're going to throw ideas up on the ceiling until something sticks. 

Family Dinner, 2009

My family got together at a traditional Korean restaurant to bring in the New Year. We started with bows to our elders, then proceeded to make speeches of gratitude. I was selected to speak on behalf of So Gee and myself. 

"When I first became a part of this family, I didn't know what to expect. But your kind and generosity have made it clear that I am lucky to be part of such a wonderful group of people. I truly appreciate how each of you has made me feel loved and welcome. It is my hope that although So Gee and I will be in America very soon, we will still get to make annual visits back to Korea to be with this family. I hope your New Years are filled with joy and happiness. Thank you for letting me speak." 

The youngest of the family will not talk to any men except her father. Everyone is mesmerized by her extreme lovability. 

Outside the restaurant was a natural spring frozen in winter. 

My brother and sister-in-law contemplate whether I will be able to eat the spicy food that is soon to arrive.

My mother-in-law makes jokes at everyone's expense. I am given translations at times. Other times I simply watch everything take place, trying to pick up phrases or gestures to clue me in on the comedies transpiring.

So Gee is eating, so she is in heaven.

I enjoy the bean soup. I drink my tea. The spicy things that come later are difficult to swallow. I do so though. I smile. I feel my stomach gurgle. I smile again.

I didn't expect to be transformed into a Pomeranian from the spicy food. It happens though. The kim chi here has a bite to it.

Festivities 2009

We had fun on New Year's. Unfortunately, there were no photos that evening. It took us a few days to remember a camera, but, once we did, I did manage to catch a few photos of So Gee, Kaivon, and I in party mode.

Kaivon was a hit wherever we went. The Koreans loved that he was so tall and wore Pradas. Actually, I don't think anyone noticed his shoes. They did love that he sang over six songs in a row at a Norabong in Apujung though. 

"Most would stop after five," one Korean told me.

"Yes," another agreed. "It is impressive when one goes over four." 

Loren managed to join us for galbi later in the night. The photo (above) is the result of Kaivon telling us to not act crazy in the photo. Loren and I both took cue from that. 

Then Kaivon expounded on his month long motorcycle trek across China. We were all flabbergasted as we learned how he managed to obtain gasoline when he ran out over the Himalayas.

"Dude," he said, "I had to walk my bike back down the mountain. I just asked around if anyone had any gasoline. Finally, I managed to hail a truck down. I expected him to get out a container when he said he had some, but, instead, he just pulled out a hose and siphoned gas into my tank with his mouth. I was like, 'Uh, thanks.' Another time I ran out of gas and I got hand delivered Pepsi cans filled with petrol from the locals."

I think Kaivon had a good time in Seoul. We got to fuel a friendship that has been seventeen years in the making. Who knows? Maybe the next time we meet will be jumping out of an airplane. 

Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower)

We decided to brave the minus six degrees centigrade and climb the Namsan Tower during Kaivon's visit from Hong Kong.

It was difficult to stand still for any photos because it was so cold, but I did manage to snap this shot of So Gee and Kaivon. I think I remember being told to "hurry up" seven times in the time it took me to take one picture. 

Once inside, the story was different. Everyone was willing to take a pose, as jackets and hats were removed in favor of making faces and staring out at the city of Seoul. 

So Gee pointed out where we were in relation to our homes. It was strange to see that I lived in such a small area of city. "That's Seoul," I thought. "I am ready to go somewhere a little more green." 

It was buildings as far as the eye could see.