the juggling underworld

The unpleasantness of going to the immigration office today, dealing with a staff that cannot speak English — I think it’s silly to demand that in coffeeshops and restaurants but good grief, a basically monolingual staff in an immigration office? — and of course the long wait, sitting beside people who seem to think nothing of playing video games on their phones at full blast, regardless of whether the repeated bleeping noise might, you know, annoy others or not. Along with discovering that my phone, miraculously fixed, is probably unmiraculously note quite fixed at all (it shuts itself off, still, at random times).

Well, all of that was mitigated by two wonderful things.

  • The office, despite some pretty weird developments, like moving the processing-fee ticket dispensing booth into the room marked simply, “Lounge,” is in fact a lot more efficient than Jeonju. They don’t make you come back a week later, at least not for simple things like mere visa extensions on extant, all-in-order visas. That’s what I needed, as I’d just gotten yself a new passport — the old one was due to expire in December — so, bang!, I got my passport back within a half hour of submitting it.
  • I had a pleasant conversation with a stranger. No, not the lady who tried to get me to help her find foreigners to work in her Church Hakwon (and even asked me if I was interested). I mean the conversation that that lady interrupted. I ended up chatting with, and acting as translator for, this guy who is here on a spousal visa, in fact a SOFA spousal visa, meaning his wife is a soldier and he’s just here with her. He’s trying to get a legit E-2 visa, and was told that he could do it without leaving the country, but that turned out not to be true. So anyway, we established what he’d have to do, and then, since we were both riding the train to the same place, took a cab together and talked on the way.

    What he told me about, after we kind of got a sense of one another’s interests, was fascinating. This guy, a physics graduate, is a juggler. He told me about IJDb, which is basically the website for the world juggling community. Apparently, like with members of certain other organizations, from clubs to religions, jugglers often get a chance to crash with other jugglers while traveling the world, and this is the place where they meet up. It’s a friendly, primary-colors-only sounding underworld, of course, nothing dark or nasty about it.

    More interestingly, he told me about some kind of revolutionary transformation that the juggling world had undergone in the last few years. The story he told, after I asked the right questions, was that juggling records had stayed pretty much stable since the 1830s, until just a few years ago. Why? Because juggling was simply too complex to choreograph, too difficult to map out, and too difficult to master as a physical art without some kind of system of planning more complex actions.

    Which is where mathematics comes in. Apparently, a few years ago, a mathematician/juggler and some of his friends started breaking down the act of juggling into its physics, the mathematics of each component action and movement. What they found was that it became possible to plan out much more complex routines than they’d before imagined, patterns that looked bizarre, and hardly look like what we who are uninitiated imagine juggling to be. The more complex the juggling, the less long-term it is repeatable, for people anyway (machines might be different), so that the requirement has become a single pass between each hand, and back to the original hand. But to plan all that became complex, so notation systems, and finally computer programs that could map object movements, became a major tool in juggling. Now, they’re apparently commonplace. The idea that a little mathematics and physics could revolutionize a circus art, that blew me away, but it seems to be the case, according to the little surfing I’ve done since I got home. These days, people are juggling 10, 11, 12, 13 objects at a time. This, the guy said, was possible because some brainy fellows decided to apply mathematics to juggling.

    Another thing that captured my imagination were some other images he described. Juggling conventions where the venues are open 21 hours a day, and all 21 hours, people are in there juggling. This guy trying to explain the mathematics of juggling to some very talented teenaged Korean jugglers he managed to meet down in Yeouido. While wearing a decadent purple chinchilla fur jacket which he described as being an attention-getter — something perfect for a juggler, right?

    One more interesting point: apparently hitting five balls is the watershed. It takes a long time to get to five balls, and then, after that, progress becomes easier, up to a point, anyway.

    Ah, one last tidbit: apparently, this guy said (and surfing confirms it) a lot of big names in juggling in the last fifty years have been Eastern Europeans/Russians. A neat brother-and-sister duo he mentioned came to mind. I think I have the protagonists for that novel set in the same world as my jazz novella… a novel I think I’ll write sometime next year, after I have some time to research juggling, Russia, Communist movements in Europe during the 40s and 50s, and the specifics about colonial Africa at that time.

3 thoughts on “the juggling underworld

  1. I used to know a guy who was a professional juggler and at one point, he got a grant to go teach juggling to street children in Chile. (Yeah, I know) Another woman I know of who does juggling juggled soaps and fruits at the opening of a Lush store in Whistler.

  2. And the bizarre update I never posted, and only came to mind when I stumbled upon this post a moment ago:

    This juggler guy I met on the train ended up being famous in Jeonju. Apparently his marriage to a woman in the US military here broke down, and he ended up being an illegal immigrant living in my old stomping grounds, Jeonju. Someone I knew who still lived there heard me tell the story, and his eyes widened as he said, “Juggler?”

    Apparently one subway ride was about as much as the guy could sustain of seeming interesting and quirky but not insane. Jeonju’s expat community all knew him, but mostly disliked him, because he just sponged off other people, doing the bare minimum illegal teaching to pay for beer and sustain what he called “the juggling lifestyle.” Apparently he turned up for an expat Halloween party with only a sock on. (Worn over his privities, obviously, but it was only a sock.) This did not make him very popular among the locals… or the expats, for that matter. Last I heard he’d skipped town because the immigration police were onto him, or he got arrested and deported, or something like that. Wild story.

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