Ruby Ramblings

Buffalo in the Rough
June 14, 2011, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Music

Upcoming Shows

Today, 6/14, Kennebunk Night Market, 5:30 to 7:30 “The Plaza” Route 1 near the Kennebunk Inn, ME

Friday 6/17, Bath 3rd Friday Art Walk, 55 Front St. 5-7pm, ME

Sat. 6/18, Harvard Make Music in the Square, 3pm, JKF Walkway, Cambridge, MA

6/22, Featured Performer, Dogfish Cafe, Free St. Portland,  8pm, ME

I think part of the reason I had a hard time acclimating to Buffalo was that I was still gushing over how much I loved Pittsburgh.  Ah, Pittsburgh, a town that has reinvented itself with great little forested neighborhoods that rides the line between southern friendliness and northern liberal mentalities.  Roving north there are two things that stuck out distinctly as differences in perspective.  The farther north you get the less people except to pay for music.  In south, peddling CDs, politely but pointedly passing tip jars, and putting a couple bucks in the bass player’s hat as it comes around are all normal ettiquitte for a night of homegrown music.  In Buffalo, the beautiful and eclectic Caz Cafe looked at me sideways when I asked if they had an in house tip jar, or if I should use my own.  Mentioning CDs felt like a taboo.

The second difference is that rather than wearing religion as a battle shield used to defend extreme opinions, judge people, and generally wreck havoc on social equanimity, I ended up in conversations with deeply Christian people in Buffalo whose religion was an outward expression of their compassion for other people and belief in Jesus.  I generally cringe when religion is mentioned in the south, but found my defensive shell melting as the folks in Buffalo showed they were mearly expressing their opinions or perspective, not trying to seperate themselves and prove their space as the chosen (therefore correct) ones.

My first impression of Buffalo as I drove around is that it is a rough city.  Worn down, chilly, cold shouldered.  I was texting with my friend in Nashville who is originally from Buffalo.  Her response was that it is a better place to live than to visit.  As the weekend went on, and I started to chat to more people, I saw that the charm of Buffalo is not in an elaborate downtown, but in its people. Once the ice was broken, I was made to feel like family by several different groups of people.  I had braved the cold exterior, and was allowed to stay and sit by the fire.

The lady I was staying with was the highlight of the visit.  I almost skipped out on a gig to just stay and talk with her.  We drank coffee, she taught me a new knitting stitch, and we chatted for hours.  She lives thirty minutes outside buffalo in the town she grew up in.  She admitted she’d never been to Buffalo before she graduated high school.  Seeing what was down the street was not a desire back then.  Despite admitting she’s hardly ever left the state of NY, she is a truly open thinker and wonderful to spend time with.  My friend had forgetten to mention that I was coming, which I could see on her face when she opened the door, but when I told her who I was, she immediately turned into a light, invited me to stay, and cooked up some mean hamburgers.  We talked about world politics, travel, and relationships.

South Buffalo

From Buffalo it’s onward to Portland, Maine. My hometown.  My mixed feelings.  It’s a great city full of restaurants, music venues, and art.  But it’s also the kind of place where people don’t smile at each at other on the street without prior introduction, where the frost heaves keep the streets in a constant state of car wrenching disrepair, where people don’t go out to see music, but half-listen to music while they get hammered and try to pick up people out of their league.  It’s cold, rainy, and dreary – and I’m not just talking about the weather.   It’s good to be home for a bit, but I’m already doubting my fantasies of staying for the year. The same kind of battle wounds, lonely weeks, and ups and downs are ok for traveling and new places, but having to face them in my hometown seems too daunting.  But I’ll give it some more time before deciding.  As usual there are many options on the table.

Mountain Towns
June 7, 2011, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Music, Travel

After a great night in Lexington with some new and old friends who showed much love and support, I got three wired hours of semi-sleep to get up at 5am to make the 6 hour trek to Thomas, WV.

I had my friend Chris in tow. It is great to have company while traveling (and to have a “ringer” at every show to start the clapping), but we did have one small problem with the navigation. Chris has never driven, ever, in his entire life, which makes giving him the sole job of human GPS more interesting than it should be. This is how getting around Lexington by car goes:
“Where should I go next.”
“Well, I think, maybe the best way to go is down this street, but that might be a one way since I only have to look one way when I use the crosswalk. A safer bet would be the next street. That must be two ways since I have to look both ways when crossing the street.”

At this point we are already passed both streets and driving in the general direction of Helsinki. A passenger must be able to give directions at faster than 10M PH since that is about the slowest I can go in 2nd gear without stalling out.

It was a beautiful and thankfully uneventful ride through the mountains to Thomas. It’s a small, lovely town with a decent trickle of tourists mostly from Pittsburgh and DC that come for a day or two of small town living. The Purple Fiddle has become a destination and has music twice a day on the weekends. I had a great responsive crowd for the afternoon slot, and enjoyed just having a lazy day with some Cold Trail Ale in a mason jar.

The evening show, was awesome, and I feel terrible that since all the day tourists were already on their way back to their respective cities, there was almost no crowd at all. The Giving Tree Band puts on a rockin’ live set and travels as an eight piece band. No small feat.




Next stop Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is seriously my new favorite city.

It’s like a major city hidden in a forest. It’s like a small mountain town, but with everything you could ever want. It’s hip, and it’s lush, and it has super friendly musicians.

I didn’t feel that way at first. As we were coming out of Maryland and up 51, I was pretty sure I was going to hate Pittsburgh. And then when Chris showed the most animation he had in hours by saying an exit was our exit, which turned out definitely not to be the exit, but a series of trial and error that lasted for a good hour. By the end of that, I decided I was ready to not only hate Pittsburgh, but swear off all passengers as well. Luckily, our mutual friend Abby saved not only Pittsburgh’s reputation, but was able to give the kind of tour of the city that only she could.  A geographer and native of Pittsburgh, we saw the ins, outs, and heard the stories behind little neighborhoods, the city steps, and the amazing architecture.

The open mic at Club Cafe was the best open mic I’ve been to anywhere in the country hands down. The musicianship was superb, with a multi instrumentalist named Bob standing out (and standing in with several regulars), and a cellist, Gordon Kirkwood, who played with a passion that was infectious.  What I saw at Club Cafe blew 90% of what happens at Nashville songwriter nights clear out of the water.

It might be time to consider a new home base.

Weekend in Kentucky
June 4, 2011, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Books, Music, Travel

This week’s shows

Sat., 6/4, Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Lexington, KY, 9pm

Sun., 6/5, The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV, 1-3pm

Monday, 6/6, Club Cafe’s Open Stage, 7pm, Pittsburgh

Friday, 6/10, Caz Cafe Coffee, 7pm, Buffalo, NY

It’s been an interesting string of (bad?) luck this week. I’ve had a great time hanging out with geographers and one of my longest running friends Chris. Every time I come to Lexington, I usually end up at the UK geographers happy hour, where a group of very cool, extremely educated folks inspire me to think about grad school again – just not for geography. Human Geographers are some of the most creative, and serially unemployed thinkers out there. I am seriously looking at TEFL/TESOL masters programs, and found a great one today at American University in DC, which includes a stint in the peace corps as part of the degree program.

But back to the music. Berea is a cute little town about an hour south of Lexington. Actually, it’s not that far south, but Lexington’s traffic is so horrendously bad for such a tiny city, that it takes that long to get there from here. Even though the really nice man who owns Main St. Cafe had done a lot of advertisement – no one was at the show. He said it was the worst day the restaurant had had since the day after New Years. That worked out fine for me, I did make some tips from the few people that were there, including a four year old girl who came up to me and said, “you sing REAL good.” It was a good chance to get the jitters out of some new songs.

Berea has great public art!

Tonight I’m at Common Grounds Coffeehouse in downtown Lexington – and just found out there is a huge outdoor festival happening down the street. This could go two ways – either no one will be in the coffeehouse because they’ll be outside boogieing to jam bands, or it will force a few folks in for beverages out of the crowds and the heat.

Tomorrow I get up at 5am to make it to WV for the afternoon show. My friend Chris is coming with me as far as Pittsburgh. We just picked up a copy of Mark Kurlansky Cod on audio for the drive at my favorite used book store in the world – The Friends of the Library in downtown Lex. It looks like tomorrow will be thunderstorms through-out NE WV, so that might keep folks away too. Sigh.

*All photos are Chris’; I forgot my camera this time, but that means for once, I’m actually in some of them.

Last Train to Knoxville
June 2, 2011, 6:59 pm
Filed under: Music, Travel

Shows for this weekend:

Today, Thursday, 6/2, Main St. Cafe, Berea, KY, 6pm

Sat., 6/4, Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Lexington, KY, 9pm

Sun., 6/5, The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV, 1-3pm


After some warm-up shows in Nashville, I’m officially on the road. First stop Knoxville, and my favorite radio station anywhere in the country, WDVX. They play all the stuff I like to listen to, so it felt darn good that I was allowed a slot on the Blue Plate Special. Some Knoxville friends came down, which was great, but I flubbed up worse than I probably ever have for anything. I played the entire first song completely wrong. The chords were in the right order, and I sang the words, but that was about it. I started with the wrong groove. At this point, there are only two options, stop, admit the mistake and hope to garner some audience sympathy, which in most cases I would have no problem doing. But this a live radio show, and one of my favorites. I decided to just try to make it work. It did OK, but I’m going to skip over that one as I edit out a song or two for your listening enjoyment. I felt like I hit a good stride by the end, but I still hate talking between songs. That was one nice thing playing in Mexico. There was no point for me to try to tell stories since most people wouldn’t have understood them. We could just stay in a nice little musicians bubble on the stage.

Blue Plate Special

The photo is from an awesome dude named Peter Scheffler who not only photographed the show and had a burned CD ready for me before I left so I could use them as promo shots, but he also bought a CD. This guy really loves music.

The other band on WDVX Tues. morning was
Scythian They are awesome, and use their respective family heritages to combine several different world regions into a highly energetic style with lots, and lots of different instruments. But I really liked their tour vehicle – an old Church Bus. They definitely don’t come across as the pious type.

Tuesday night I went down the Preservation Pub. I thought it was a songwriters night, but it ended up being a benefit for storm relief for the Red Cross, which was way cooler. They let me play a set even though I wasn’t on the roster, thanks to a guy named Pete. It looked like they raised a bit of money, which Preservation Pub matched dollar for dollar. I offered a couple CDs for the cause, or my dirty tour socks, but no one wanted those.

I hung around a bit the next morning, and went and saw the Wed. Blue Plate Special. I’m glad I did because Sam Lewis made me tear up at least twice. Check him out.

Click here to hear a clip from the WDVX show:
Venus Burns – Live WDVX

Buy Fieldnotes From a Caravan and put gas in my car. I’m also in need of toothpaste and face wash.

Downloads only

On the Road Again
May 28, 2011, 7:35 pm
Filed under: Music, Nashville, Travel | Tags: , , ,

05 Dream Next to Me (click to open wordpress music player and listen while you read.)

It has been a whirlwind week back in Nashville full of the kind of surprises and experiences that I won’t say can only happen here, but that keep me coming back even when I swear this town and all its cowboy hats off. From my favorite thing in Nashville, the Wilhagan’s campfire circle, to a songwriters night in Mt. Juliet that was literally just a waste of gas, it’s been an interesting and busy transition back into the country. Just for the added practice, and because I’d never been to it before, I went to the Cafe Coco’s Tues. night open mic, and met some really talented and cool folks. The night started off with a gorgeous, heavily tattooed black woman wearing pajamas singing Lynard Skynard’s Simple Kind of Man. Again, I’m not going to say that could only happen in Nashville, but, really.

I embark on a tour of sorts on Monday, and have started out with the proverbial flat tire. I wanted to get a different kind of pick-up installed, and on the recommendation of the fantastic Sturgill from Sunday Valley, I called Artisan Guitars in Franklin. They were extremely helpful and suggested a pickup that is better suited for both my style and my guitar, and it cost well under $100 (The K&K pure western mini). That’s when the flat tire happened.

I took the guitar to Delgado Guitars in East Nashville. A third generation luthier of over 40 instruments, Manuel Delgado is an extremely knowledgeable, down-to-earth, and approachable dude. The guitar got dropped off, and not thirty minutes later, I got a call, “you should come down here and look at this.”

Now, I didn’t NEED to spend the money on a new pickup, the L.R. Baggs soundhole pickup I’ve been using isn’t bad, but I’m not a music techy person, and it needed some adjustment to suit my style. But it’s a damn good thing I did, because, otherwise, I would never have caught the rupture that probably would have caused my bridge to jump clear off the guitar on a hot humid festival day. I play guitar the same way I drive my car. I take it out of the case, put it drive, and expect it all to work. I hadn’t even noticed the bridge was lifting clear off and the only thing holding it down were the pegs. Apparently this is a common problem with the masterbuilt series since the tops are spray finished before the bridges are set, so the bridge is actually just glued to the finish, with no true wood to wood bond. Considering this guitar has been back and forth to Asia three times, and just recently enjoyed the fresh, hot, Mexican air, it’s no surprise the glue wasn’t holding up.

When I asked how much it would cost, I’m pretty sure Manuel saw by the look on my face that it wasn’t a matter of being expensive, but that I literally just don’t have it. After we talked about some options, all of which required putting off work that would cause further damage and need to be dealt with later anyway, and me bursting into tears at one point, he struck me a deal. He told me how much he needs up front, and told me to come by with the rest whenever I have it. No dates set, no interest rates, no invoices, just a deal between a struggling musician, and a person who loves guitars.

Now, I’m out half of my gas money, but at least the tools of the trade are in working order.

Dream Next to Me, the song you can click and listen to at the top of the page, is one of my older songs, and one I’m really happy got on Fieldnotes From a Caravan. It’s a song I wrote right before moving to Nashville.

I really hope that people that like the music will consider buying a record, or some singles to help refuel my travel fund. At this point, I don’t have enough to make it to Maine, and am hoping that record sales online and at shows along the way are going to make up for it. The risky, but realistic gamble that most people have to take to tour.

The music is up on several different sites, but the two that benefit me (where I actually get most of the money you spend, and it gets to me quickly) are:

Downloads (including PDF files of all artwork): Bandcamp
Downloads and CDs: Cd Baby

If I’m coming through your town, I’d love to see you:
May 31 WDVX, Blue Plate Special Knoxville, TN
May 31 Preservation Pub, Knoxville, TN
Jun 02 Main St. Cafe Berea, KY
Jun 04 Common Grounds Coffeehouse Lexington, KY
Jun 05 The Purple Fiddle Thomas, WV
Jun 06 Club Cafe Pittsburgh, PA
Jun 10 Caz Cafe Coffehouse Buffalo, NY
June 13 Nietzsche’s Buffalo, NY
Jun 17 Five Rivers 3rd Friday A Bath, ME
Jun 22 Dogfish Bar and Grille Portland, ME
Jun 25 Gorham Grind Gorham, ME
Jul 07 Dogfish Bar and Grille Portland, ME
Jul 13 One Longfellow Square Portland, ME
Jul 16 Yarmouth Clam Festival Yarmouth, ME
Jul 22 Slainte Wine Bar Portland, ME
Jul 30 Furey’s Cafe Folk Festival Lowell, MA
Aug 18 Indiegrrl International Festival Knoxville, TN
Aug 26 Main St. Cafe Berea, KY Link
Aug 27 Taylor Books Charleston, WV
Aug 28 The Purple Fiddle Thomas, WV
Aug 31 The Commodore Bar and Grille Nashville, TN

Walking Guanajuato
March 27, 2011, 8:33 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Music, Travel

When I set out last Sunday on my only full day in Guanajuato, it was not my intention to walk across half the perimeter of the city, but that is exactly what I did. The benefit of travelling alone is that epic adventures on a whim are the norm, not the exception. There is no one else to convince but yourself that the next best thing is right around the corner (when if fact it was up a mountain, around two valleys, and past something unexpected).

Guanajuato is the most amazing walking city. There is no point in having a car, it isn’t big enough to need it, the buses are frequent and easy, and driving would only mean missing all the little callejons that you can’t drive down.

After making it through the center, I started rambling up the hill thinking it couldn’t be too far a walk to that giant pink church, the Valenciana. This is where the town starts to get more rundown – houses under half construction, and this clay factory where the trinkets sold in town for pennies are shaped and dried in the sun. You’d never see that from a bus.

Although, as the bird flies the church wasn’t that far from downtown up the side of the valley, from a roadside view, it required quite a few switchbacks and roundabout going to actually get up there. On the way there, another red church that wasn’t visible from the valley came into view, and was a great resting point. It was clearly Sunday, and the masses were out for mass.

Some boys were hovering around me and finally asked me for my bottle. I offered them the full thing to share, but they said they just wanted to empty bottle, for change I suppose. I found it such a unique and polite way to ask for something they needed. I gave them the rest of my snacks, and finally after some insistence they took the rest of my water. I was just excited I was able to conduct the whole encounter in Spanish and hope it helped them a tiny bit in their day.

From around the next corner, it looked like the pink church was RIGHT THERE, but of course, around more switchbacks and up the mountain, it was much further. After finally getting there, I rested at the base with an older woman selling geodes and such from a local mine. She gave me entire history of the area in Spanish, of which I understood approximately 5%. But it was sweet.

La Valenciana is a cathedral dating from the late 1700s. The pink stone and location make it visible from anywhere in the city. I think the little hilltop community here is actually it’s own town, and has the vibe of the kind of place that people don’t leave very often.

I took the bus back town the mountain – 15 minutes, as opposed to the two or three hours I spent taking the long way up. I made it back to the other side of town to the Mummy museum that everyone talks about. It is quite a racket with an endless line out the door. 50 pesos to look at the dessicated and highly preserved bodies that were dug up decades ago to make room for more folks. They are in amazing states of preservation, and some are quite disturbing. The worst/most interesting were the babies – up to 100 years old complete with eyelashes, fingernails, and perfect baby toes. It was interesting to learn that traditionally in Mexico baby funerals are treated as a joyous event to lift the families spirits with music, dancing, dressing the baby in white, and making a parade through the city.

As I was headed back to the hostel for a siesta, I passed a cafe that just called to me. I really wanted to have dinner there, and made it back off the hill the hostel was on. The effort was worth it, as La Vida Sin Ti (The life without you), turned out to be a truly unique and memorable experience.

As soon as I walked in, a woman who wasn’t even working started talking to me and getting the waitress’ attention to help me. The woman and her party then turned their seats to include me in their conversation while they drank coffee, made (from what I could understand) many off color comments about dating and men, and life in general. This was a good enough night for me, but that is only the beginning. A rather flamboyant man with tattoos all over his arms came in and started joking with the woman talking to me and pretending to dirty dance with her. He then came over to me, and when I laughed and pushed him away with my strongest Mexican cuss words, the whole place erupted in laughter. It turned out pretty much everyone there were close friends and regulars – all writers, artists, musicians, and the tattooed man a mime/magician. The owner of the restaurant is a writer who writes exclusively in Portuguese by the name of Oliverio Alvarez. I was going to leave and call it a night, but decided to stay when I saw this picture in the bathroom.

Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise.

After finishing a unique quesadilla, I joined the folks at the bar and got to talking. It turned out everyone spoke English (and they weren’t shy about letting the disappointment that I’m not conversational in Spanish be known – although I learned later in the night some of this was projected anger at former or present American girlfriends who never learned Spanish.)

At some point in the night we were talking about art, and I stated that I was a really good singer. I didn’t mean for it to sound the way it did, but everyone stopped in their tracks, made jokes about my American-ness, and then dragged me on top of the bar and ordered that I sing right then and there to the restaurant full of people – with no guitar, and no time to think about what might go over. I tried to get out of it, but was instructed that I couldn’t make such a comment without proving it (this coming from a writer – if he were put in the same situation, it is impossible to make a writer provide a novel at a moments notice.) So I sang – Rock Salt and Nails to be exact.

Luckily for me, it went over extremely well, and the writer who claimed that he was ready to ridicule me for my American bravado the second I was finished instead asked me to marry him.

And so went the night. They shut the place down, they locked the doors, and a few of us artist types spent the night drinking, talking, and occasionally they made me sing a song – although my ability to come up with one on the spot and actually remember the lyrics got worse as the night progressed. Sorry Derek Hoke, I hope the butchered version of Still Waiting I came up with at 1am never makes it onto youtube.

February 21, 2011, 8:51 pm
Filed under: Mexico, Music, Tlaquepaque, Travel

While my northern friends are buried under piles of snow, wind, and ice, it’s starting to get blistering hot here. Sunday was a wreck from the heat, and the damage I caused myself with margaritas and music on Saturday night.

Sunday night I took a wander down some streets I’d never ventured down before. Most places, some of the most picturesque scenery is of the religious nature. I love the architecture, if not always the sentiment.

Saturday I went to the tostada stand where I get help with my homework. I ended up getting dragged, along with my guitar, to meet Pancho’s family. Pancho and his son, also Pancho, run the tostada stand where I first started playing music in town. He invites me to his sister’s house, and it turns out the cousin lived in California for ten years and speaks great English. He was my advisor for the night and kept an eye on things as people got out of hand and the tequila started to flow. We all headed down to the Parian to play some music and entertain folks, which as you can see, went very well. The bartender was extremely happy that this merry band of young men decided to stay for another round for the chance to sing along with the gringa.

When Pancho, who is older than my father, and has two girlfriends and a wife, started calling me Mamacita, I knew it was time to make my exit.

Relationships in Mexico are an interesting thing. Many of the people I’ve talked to here are not exclusive with their boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses. I asked Pancho (the dad), how he feels about his daughter’s husband cheating on her, and he said he didn’t care. “That’s Mexico.” I asked him how he felt about the fact that Pancho (the son) has seven kids with four different women. He said he was proud he had so many kids. Very different thinking from mine I suppose. It goes to show that a church on every corner doesn’t count for much. Tequila wins over Catholicism every time. For now, I’m choosing to keep my distance and enjoy Latin men from an arm’s length.

A new album, a new place, a few new songs
December 9, 2010, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Music, Nashville, Travel

After a year and a half of Asian travels, foreign languages, pictures of exotic places, and eclectic folks, it’s been great to be back in Nashville for a couple of months. I have been creating, just in a different medium. I’ve finally finished a new record: Field Notes from a Caravan. Nine songs spanning years of travel in four different countries.

We are 100% finished with the recording, and will be ready to send to press within two weeks. We have to be, since I am once again leaving the country, this time headed to Mexico for a five month teaching position in Tlaquepaque right outside of Guadalajara.

Here is where the shameless self-promotion comes in. We’ve made a fantastic record, Azal Khan, Josh Pessar, Kevin Gordon, Eric Elsner, Troy Jones, Chris Clawson, Moriah Harris, Dan Schaefer, Joe Bloom and I. In order for you to hear it, and for me to keep traveling and writing songs to tell you stories, I need a little help from my friends.

Although I can’t guarantee a Christmas delivery, if you were so inclined to preorder a copy, pay for it in advance so I can get the printing done, and wait by your mailbox patiently, a magic little package complete with a signed disc, some snappy schwag, and a happy musician on the other end will arrive at your doorstep soon after New Year.

Don’t just wait for the itunes or .mp3s to become available – first because if you do that I may not be able to release the album, and second, because it sounds better and comes with cooler stuff in pure physical form.

$13.00 per copy
$10.00 per copy if you order 2 or more.
$1.00 for shipping domestic or international

I made a handy-dandy paypal button, but wordpress won’t let me post it soooo..
For paypal use rubysales @, or e-mail me at the same for options other than paypal.

I also have many of the photos that you have seen on this blog for sale at You can buy prints of my favorite photos from around Asia in postcard, greeting card, poster, and many other forms. Red Bubble makes extremely high quality prints and is a great artist community.

Thank you to everyone who supports my art, my music, and my travels. Cheers to years and years more!

Further Adventures of a D cup
September 28, 2009, 5:50 pm
Filed under: Korea, Music, Travel

I didn’t make it to the gym until 11:30 tonight. Although the sauna is open 24 hours, the excercise room, for no discernable reason, closes at midnight. I can read enough of the signage to know this, but as the man wearing red rubber gloves came into wipe everything down, I was pretending I didn’t, hoping he was uneasy enough with his English skills to just let me finish my workout. It seemed to be working, but I started to feel bad for him, so I compromised. The song I had been waiting for all night finally came on my MP3 player. (I figured out how to include this song for your listening enjoyment above.) I decided when the song was over, I would push the stop button and leave. It was a good decision; he gave me a very relieved nod that I wasn’t going to force him to confront me as I smiled on my way out.

Jimjilbangs seem to be either a person’s favorite thing in Korea, or something that they would never even consider doing even with the promise that they will come out fifty pounds lighter in the end.  For me, they are heaven.  Due to the fact that I’m actively trying to loose weight, that I love to swim, and that saunas are pure bliss to me, the naked 60-year-women are of little consequence.

For the folks who read this who have never been to Korea, Jimjilbangs are a ubiquitous part of the culture that I am going to have a hard time giving up when I go elsewhere.  They are elaborate saunas, workout rooms, bathing pool/hot-tub/awesomeness with the add-on of any number of other things like sleeping quarters, restaurants, massage parlors, and the part that people talk about the most: for less than $20 you can have an old lady scrub every dead skin cell off your body with a rag that feels like a cat’s tongue, which will not only make your skin beautiful, but erase any shred of modesty you may have had left.

Actually, that’s not that part that people talk about most. The part that foreigners talk about most, is that in the actual sauna part, it is an absolute requirement that you go naked. The saunas are separated by gender, obviously, and it is a parade that takes all kinds. My kind sticking out like a sore thumb for reasons I probably don’t even want to know about.

In the common areas everyone, male and female, are given the exact same uniform to wear. Long baggy gym shorts, and a t-shirt. One good thing is that you are not confronted by the latest in cheek-flossing LA style workout-wear. One bad thing is that the ladies at the front desk seem to think I am an Amazon woman and always hand me a ridiculously large outfit to wear that makes me look like a walking sack of potatoes. I have to tie the drawstring tight so that my shorts don’t run off while I’m jogging on the treadmill. I’ve made a point of hiking them up and retying the strings in front of the desk Ajammas, but they still seem to think that I require a men’s extra large in the drawers department.

My rear is probably not what any of the ladies in the sauna are concerned with though. I would imagine, there is another part of me that is quite noticeable. The “cool pool,” as I like to call it is the perfect temperature and is deep enough to actually swim laps.  It also has jets that are strong enough to send you shooting across the pool, or mar your back with bruises if you stand too close when you turn them on as I found out the morning after my first visit. The second time I was there I had a little toddler of a guy use my chest to hoist himself up over the final step. He was just climbing his way up, and I happened to be standing there, and high enough to be the next rung in the ladder. Then today, there was a lovely old lady who couldn’t stop looking. They do float a little in the pool, being made of what they are made of, but she was looking at me as if she suddenly forgot how to swim and was considering me as an option for a personal flotation device.

That wasn’t nearly as bad as the women at the Seoul Women’s Bookclub who told us a story of a middle-aged Korean woman sitting next to her in the hot tub, who leaned over and squeezed her breast firmly, and then turned back to her companion and declared, “Yep, they’re real!”

Which reminded me, yesterday a boy who looked to be about seven was doing some serious scientific analysis on my body compared to his adult companions. At one point during his data collection, I really thought he was going to flat-out grab my chest. He had both hands up, fingers splayed, one eye closed – but he stopped short of actually touching me, moved his hands over to his mother and compared. Like you would measure something on a map by using your knuckle. Just a rough estimate for future reference.

So by 1am this morning, I was worked-out, hot-tubbed, and bubble-jet happy. But there was a little snaffoo in trying to pull on the skirt that I love, and can finally fit into for the first time since I’ve been in Korea. You know how it’s harder to wiggle into stuff when your skin is damp and the steam makes you swell. The stupid thing is that I had thought of that before I left. I actually thought to myself, “it is going to be hard to get this skirt back on after getting out of the sauna.” But did I bring a different change of clothes. No. So there I was wiggling around trying to coerce the skirt up over my rear, when I hear some tittering behind me. I knew I couldn’t get away with this unnoticed. The display, I’m sure, guaranteed the fact that the next time I go, the shorts that are handed to me will be a men’s extra, extra large.

The song is Down in Mexico by The Coasters

The original Adventures of a D Cup

How do you say Jazz in Korean?
May 28, 2009, 5:29 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Music, Travel | Tags: ,

Thanks to Celtic Librarian I just learned that the Smithsonian has podcasts that I can actually stream here! (Jumping up and down.)

I clicked on Silk Road Stories, and of course the featured podcast is about Korea. Some American and Korean musicians got together to have a Free Jazz concert. I used to play jazz in high school and college, but gave it up for bluer and grassier pastures. I’ve never particularly liked or understood free jazz, but this podcast was nice, beautiful and a lot simpler than free jazz I’ve heard in the past.

Another podcast I listed to was How Asanga Came to See the Future Buddha.

Off in search of news and entertainment not based in Korea or regarding swine flu.