Archive | December, 2012
December 28, 2012

Fostering Fatty


One of my main objectives for 2012 was to volunteer at a cause I felt passionately about. After just a little bit of searching on the web, I found a terrific website, Animal Rescue Korea, that that manages to loosely organize the various animal shelters scattered throughout the country.

Having failed to contact anyone at Daejeon Paws after several attempts, I was lucky enough to find on Facebook that Animal Rescue Korea also had a weekly event at another shelter nearby. The Asan Shelter is run by Mr. Park and  is located an hour north of Daejeon by car. It is also just 20 minutes via the KTX high-speed rail and just another 15 minutes by taxi from the Cheonan-Asan Station.

I later found out that Mrs. Jung at Daejeon Paws is not very computer savvy, but does run an excellent animal shelter pretty much all by herself in a small, run-down flat. I was ultimately able to visit recently with Glenn, who has been volunteering to walk the big dogs there on a regular basis. In addition to his work at Daejeon Paws, Glenn has been helping out at Asan Shelter, too, while looking for a dog to adopt and send back home. Originally hailing from Ottawa, he has not only been a good friend and inspiration, but a valuable resource for all things shelter-wise here in Korea. In one of many heartwarming stories I witnessed at the shelter this year, Glenn adopted a beautiful Pyrenees-mix named “Ghost” last month and has plans to take her back to Canada on his winter break.

As I have outlined in several earlier posts, I began volunteering weekly at Asan Shelter beginning in September all the way up to Thanksgiving and the departure of co-teacher, Josh. As each week passed, I found that my thoughts and activities began to center more and more on the amazing volunteers at the shelter -and on all the sweet animals living there. Over the course of those 3 months, I couldn’t wait for each week to pass so that I could get back out to be with the animals. Despite the horrible conditions, the dogs have a resilient and inspiring spirit that draws you in and will not let go. Desperate for any amount of attention and care, the nearly 70 dogs in cages, along with the roughly 40 cats roaming the grounds, were always happy to see the taxis pull up loaded with volunteers.

As my involvement and level of commitment grew, I began to receive subtle (and not-so subtle) hints that I might make a good candidate for fostering an animal from the shelter. As I began to consider the logistics and realities of being a foster father, the temperatures began to drop with each passing week. I then began to look at the dogs differently and really tried pictured one of them living in my apartment in Daejeon. With that in mind, I was drawn again and again to the large pack of Spaniels caged together at the top of the hill. Their size and temperament seemed to be an ideal fit, as we had a Cocker growing up and I have never paid much attention to lap-dogs. The bigger breeds have always been my favorite and are actually in greater need of fostering and adoption, it just was completely impractical given my situation and work schedule.

(Please click on any image below to view in a gallery full-sized)

Still reluctant to take the next step, everything changed when the hints turned into pleas for sympathy, and several volunteers suggested I check out a shelter favorite named “Fatty” instead of a Spaniel. It turns out Fatty is the perfect name for an adorable 3-year old Maltese, who was always friendly and visible on my previous visits; he was just not on my radar as a dog needing my attention. In fact, I really only looked at him as a dog that got too much attention (and perhaps too many treats) in his year living there, resulting in his low-slung girth and unforgettable moniker.

I decided to take him out for a walk around the shelter so we could get acquainted. Fatty was certainly ready to stretch his legs after some fresh food and a little grooming. I immediately found him to be charming, well mannered, and highly intelligent. As I spent even more time with him, other volunteers approached us offering whatever they could to help make the fostering happen that very afternoon. I went from just thinking about it, to having anything I would possibly need to do it provided for us both. Everything, including a bright pink travel crate, was donated to the cause. After a quick trip to Seoul for some additional supplies, Fatty and I headed back to his new foster home via First Class on the KTX.

Fostering Fatty from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

After a few days of getting used to each other and a full check-up at the Cool Pets shop inside Home Plus, Fatty was also given a full pet-spa treatment of a bath, pedicure, and a haircut. Not only did he come back fluffy and smelling like baby powder, he was heart worm negative and his blood work, kidneys, and ears all came back in tip-top shape, to boot. Despite the obvious lingering weight issue, Fatty was in terrific condition, which is remarkable given his time at the shelter and the conditions there.

The prescription by Dr. Park for lots of exercise was easy to accommodate and a regular walking schedule was instituted right away. Regular walks in my Dong proved not only to be just the ticket for Fatty’s total transformation, but he also began to become quite the celebrity, attracting attention wherever we went. After only five days in my care, we were flagged down by  the owner of a flower shop called Tiger Wooju, just a block from my apartment building. Although he spoke no English, Mr. Jeong and I  exchanged cards and a lot of friendly attention centered on Fatty. Later that day, I got an text message from him seemingly indicating that he and his family were interested in “my little dog”.

After a few weeks of translating the adoption application, everything checked out and things started to look really good for “The Fat One”. On the Sunday before Christmas, I rode to the shelter with Mr. Jeong, his wife Mi-Jung, and their youngest son, Wooju, for a visit to see where their potential new pet came from . Following a cold and snowy tour of the facilities at Asan Shelter, which included seeing Fatty’s old cage, the adoption was finally green-lighted. Fatty’s forever home came just in time for Christmas and added one more name to the long list of little victories for second chance animals in Korea. Congratulations to Fatty and the Jeong family and thanks to all the volunteers that made it happen!

Fat Christmas from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

December 12, 2012

Farewell Joshua

JoshFarewell18December saw the end of another Native Teacher contract at my hagwon, as Maryland native, Josh Stinton, excitedly returned home to the United States. Josh was a teacher at the Noeun Branch of JLS and a great friend and travel companion over the last year.

Despite his age, Josh was extremely mature and passed my snobby credentials early on by displaying a wide knowledge of both great music (like My Bloody Valentine and The Clash) and also good literature (like Hemingway and Chuck Klosterman).

My experience abroad has changed me for the better in so many ways and the best, most memorable part will always be the people I have met here. Josh was always quick to laugh, particularly at himself, and was always up for hike, bike ride, or other urban adventure. Our shared fascination with the daily absurdity of Korean culture was frustrating for him at first and was often times hilarious to us both. It was our ability to laugh at these otherwise infuriating cultural differences that made the experience bearable and ultimately all the more illuminating.


I got to see Joshua grow and mature even more during his short time here, too, becoming a more confident and experienced world traveler. This has helped me realize just how green I was upon my initial arrival in South Korea and how we both will be forever better for the experience. He also has a natural gift for teaching and the kids loved him. JLS and the staff were sad to see him go, but his adventure continues.

Upon his return to the U.S.A., Josh planned to substitute teach and pursue a graduate degree in a related field. I wish him continued success in whatever path he chooses to follow and I will miss having him here as a trusted friend. Josh always pushed me to go a little farther beyond my comfort zone, and as I have discovered…that is where the magic happens.








Peace, safe travels, and good luck, Josh, from The Rock Traveler!

December 4, 2012

The Final Cut

Pink Floyd / The Final Cut 

Released 1983 (Harvest Records)

Produced by Roger Water, James Guthrie, and Michael Kamen


I have written in detail here at The Rock Traveler about the difference between albums that are my very favorites and albums I consider to be the best by any one particular artist, band, or performer. The answer for some when posed this question is rarely the same. Bands like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, U2, Rush, and Van Halen, with such long, prolific careers and such distinct periods (and even lineups) for example, are even more interesting to discuss, dissect, and consider. Pink Floyd has always had such a strong presence in the world of rock and still have one of the most passionate and dedicated followings in music. It is rare to find any two fans that agree on the best work in their catalog and, of course, there is no right answer.

I have always maintained that if you enjoy ANY type of music, the emotions and feelings it creates are more important than what I like versus what you like. Additionally, it has been my experience that some of the most lasting and influential works in music history rarely are the result of ideal circumstances and creative harmony. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights are just two examples of musical masterpieces created as the direct result of bands (and relationships) imploding while the tape is running. The Final Cut, Pink Floyd’s final proper album from 1983, features their classic lineup (sans Rick Wright) before the acrimonious departure of Roger Waters. Once cited as one of the most depressing albums in history, I have always strongly disagreed with that assertion. The Final Cut is certainly not Pink Floyd’s best album. That distinction is a matter of opinion and will forever be  open for debate. It is, however, MY favorite Pink Floyd album, as its music, message, and subtle brilliance continues to reveal, haunt, and entertain me nearly 30 years after its release. It is certainly a dark and highly emotional work that transcends easy comparisons or classification and it rewards the patient listener; especially on vinyl and through headphones.

Most Floyd fans would argue that 1973′s Dark Side of the Moon holds the distinction of the band’s best and most popular work. The band members themselves also readily admit that it was a creative high water mark for them and an enjoyable time when each member was “on side” towards the realization of a shared musical vision. The album spent 741 (nearly 15 years) on the Billboard charts and has sold over 50 million copies worldwide since. It is hard to argue with its success or lasting influence; as it is still an achievement in recorded music that never fails to surprise, impress, and reveal additional layers. In fact, Dark Side, and the follow-ups, 1975′s Wish You Were Here and Animals (from 1977) are a trio of albums of such high quality and creativity and complexity that the band’s legacy would have been forever cemented had they never recorded anything else.

However, like the song “Limelight” from the classic 1980 Rush release Moving Pictures, the fame, wealth, and acclaim  that come with an album as popular as Dark Side eventually leads to sad times and ultimately darker material.  “Limelight”, like many Rush songs, manages to convey an entire album’s worth of message, cynicism, and drama in just one cut. Ironically, the popularity of the song (and album) caused the very problem it detailed. While Pink Floyd stretched a similar message across two unforgettable album sides on Dark Side, the single “Money” echoes (pun intended) a similar foreshadowing of the impending success of the band and subsequent (and seemingly inevitable) unraveling of Pink Floyd as a functioning group. This ultimate alienation and demise did not receive proper attention again lyrically or thematically from Roger Waters until the epic 1979 release, The Wall.

The Final Cut was initially intended to be a coda for the songs and issues raised during the recording of The Wall, and as a further clarification of Waters’ anti-war message. It was also to be used as a soundtrack to the 1982 movie version of The Wall being directed by Alan Parker and starring (Sir) Bob Geldof of Boomtown Rats. Most fans would agree that the main concepts were muddled and lost in the uneven (yet visually striking) movie version of The Wall, which the band (and Waters in particular) were never fully happy with. So, when the war in the Falkland Islands broke out, Waters’ instead rewrote The Final Cut from a movie soundtrack and turned it into a scathing review of modern British politics; focusing on the unfulfilled promises of a new era in England after World War II and the high cost the war ultimately had on him personally. Waters father, Eric Fletcher Waters, for whom the album is dedicated, died in Italy in 1944 as an officer in the British Army and is the ever-present ghost that seems to haunt the entire album. A rare and brilliant short film (below) was produced to coincide with the release of the album and only one video, for the album’s lone single “Not Now John,” was made.

Already having one of the most impressive visual components to both the band’s distinctive album covers and their legendary light shows, Roger Waters chose to eschew the work of long-time collaborators Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, founding members of Hipgnosis for this release. Remembered best for their work with groups like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Yes, U.F.O., and Peter Gabriel, Hipgnosis also created the now iconic design and photography of the Dark Side of the Moon cover, as well as Animals and Wish You Were Here. Design for the album cover on The Final Cut Waters completed himself this time around using photos taken by his brother in law. The cover is of a simple array of war medals on a black background and the inside gate-fold displays various pictures of poppies, a theme also echoed throughout the album’s lyrics. Poppies, inspired by the war poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, have been used as a common remembrance of those who have lost their lives in the line of duty since WW I.

 (Please click on each image below to view full size) 

The album was also recorded using the then new and experimental Holophonic recording process to give the album the audio equivalent of a 3-D quality . Holophonics was created by Argentinian inventor, Hugo Zuccarelli, and can best be heard on the album in the transitions from one song to another, which feature voices, sound effects, and background noises similar to those used to link songs on The Wall and Dark Side into a thematic whole. A remastered and repackaged CD was released by EMI in Europe and on Capitol Records in the US in 2004; which includes an extra song, the previously unreleased “When the Tigers Broke Free” appearing just after “One of the Few“. It is a nice song but does disrupt the flow fans of the album may have become accustomed to. As the album is still best heard in one listen from beginning to end the best songs on the disc hold up well when heard with other cuts or “Best Of” collections.

I encourage anyone who has not heard the album to listen patiently and with no expectations so you can decide for yourself. I consider it to be a lost treasure in their discography and therefore, songs that can still be enjoyed as if they were brand new.  However, please make-up your own mind and keep the debate going.

Track List 2004 Re-release (EMI/Capital) 

1. The Post War Dream

2. Your Possible Pasts

3. One of the Few

4. When the Tigers Broke Free

5. The Hero’s Return

6. The Gunner’s Dream

7. Paranoid Eyes

8. Get Your Filthy Hands off my Desert

9. The Fletcher Memorial Home

10. Southampton Dock

11. The Final Cut

12. Not Now John

13. Two Suns in the Sunset

For further reading on Pink Floyd and this album, check out these links, sources, and fan resources: