It’d be easier to have my cake and eat it too if I had 2 cakes...

It’s interesting sometimes how things come together and gets you in a specific mood. You’ve got natural substances, and artificial ones; some are already internal, while others are willfully ingested. Personality plays a part in how chemicals affect your mood, and your recent activities, both past and future, also contribute to any one feeling you might have at a particular moment. The weather, location and people you’ve been in contact with also inadvertently donate to your personal ambiance as well.

I’m tired. Maybe more accurately…exhausted. I’ve had supercharged weekend and have depleted my energy reserve tank. I’ve been in Seoul for the past 2 days, enjoyed some great shopping, awesome food, and got to go to one of the really good art museums, all with amazing people. Having a genie couldn’t have made the weekend any better. I truly believe that. I’ve been in my friend’s coffee shop watching it rain, listening to jazz and drinking coffee for the past 2 hours. I'm not really tired, but feel incredibly lethargic. Very sloth like. Exhaustion and caffeine are the main ingredients in that I believe. Earlier I was petitioned to join some soccer friends in eating raw fish flown in from the small Korean island called Jeju. The 2 large fish we ate were very seasonal and rare. For 5 people I think they forked over about $150. By the time I answered my phone, they were half done eating, but they still kept calling me. I had missed 6 calls. One guy stopped eating, drove across town to pick me up, while the others waited until I got there to finish eating. That is just everyday typical Korean generosity. They care.  I often think of the saying where friends are closer family than family, and I think Korea could be the center of that philosophy.  I’m not insinuating that my family is not good to me, not by any means, just that… they treat me, a foreigner, as if I was their life long friend and family. My friend Mr. Shin was taking me home after we ate, and I started having some random, fragmented thoughts about how big the world is, and how many people are actually in it…. How close to mind blowingly unfathomable it really is that you can transplant yourself into a culture completely foreign and literally weave yourself into an entirely different life.  It kind of left me speechless a lump in my throat. I really can’t believe I’ve found such a genuine group of friends on the other side of the world.

Before I came here I knew Asians ate sushi and sushi was raw fish. My education of the Asian culture didn’t extend much further than that. I’ve always loved traveling, but this area was never on my list.

A while back I was appreciating all the fun I’ve been having and came up with “the more places I go, the more places I want to be.” Which to me means as my options grow, my decisions become harder. When I moved to OKC I said to myself, I think I could live and have a life in Elk City, lets see about OKC. I went to California for one summer, and proved to myself that I could live there too, despite a few difficulties. After I graduated, I had solidified a life in OKC and knew that it was a place that I could, and more than likely would, life for most of my life. Circumstance and opportunity handed me an offer to move to Denver and so in January of 2009 I packed my pick up and headed to the snow. I had a ton of fun with my friends, saw first hand why almost people from Denver are always happy, and decided that I could live there too, but that I liked OKC more. Two years later, the same 2 showed up again, handing me a plane ticket and an offer to see if I could live some place a little more difficult, and I accepted. Six months later, here I am, seeing that it is not only possible, incredibly successful. And now my saying I had thought up a month or 2 earlier doesn’t seem convey the problem very accurately. It’s gone from an idea “wow I’ve got a lot of money what do I want to buy!” to “soon I’m going to have to make another decision as to what I want to give up." I’m not looking forward to it. Currently I do not foresee either outcome being painless. A vacation is quickly turning into a life and now my decisions aren’t as easy. I never expected to become this involved and included in the local’s lives.

Case in point…my friend Dragon, the coffee shop owner, 2 hours before closing, just said he wanted to leave early to go see his wife in Seoul, and tossed me the keys to the shop and said lock up when the customers leave. Or stay as long as you want. I’ve found myself in an incredibly trusting, genuine friendship.

The longer I’m here, the better it gets, the more questions that pop up, the more difficult I find things. I need to find a way to have another cake.  

 

Disclaimer: I have no idea why I can not rotate my pictures. Sorry. 

Well this weekend was pretty sweet. Seemed like everything went my way. Friday night started out with a good badminton session and then I got to hang out w/ all the local English teachers in my town, (there’s about 18 of them I think) but we don’t see each other much b/c we’ve all got other friends across Korea that we seem to go and see.  Yes I am playing against a 3rd grade girl in the badminton pictures. And yes she beats adults. Saturday I didn’t have football because my team went to a tournament in another city and because of my eligibility (foreigner) issue I'm not allowed to play. So I finally found time to go to the roof and get a suntan.

Saturday afternoon, I got a call from one of the other Korean football players that didn’t go to the game, saying he’d come pick me up and we’d go to an auto show. Both Vipers in attendance donned twin turbos, with the Hennessey having the exhaust exit out the back. I thought that was a nice touch. Unfortunately Dodge forgot that deceleration is just as important as the inverse, and failed to be a braking contender at the show. Not only were they small, they didn’t even bother to cross drill them. Disappointing. The Italian livestock made a very fine showing, as did German trio. The Nissan and Toyota were both right hand drive, which made them extra cool.

For some reason I was all about the brake inspection at this show, and the centerpiece of the show, the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG took the cake. The 183,000 USD car has 15.8” ceramic front rotors. These things would stop a Peterbilt.  MB had the SLR McLaren there as well, and I loved staring at the floor shifter that had the start button under the flip up cover. Yum.  There was also a CLS 550 there, which I still think has one of the best, most fluid, speed inspiring body lines I’ve ever seen. It leaves me speechless. Before we left the city that the show was in we went to visit one of my friends friends, where he had a scrumptious snack platter awaiting us. I was feeling pretty high up haha. On the way back from the show, my friend got a call saying the team lost and they were on their way back. The friend I was with had dinner plans but another teammate would be by to pick me up so I could go eat with everybody. 

I had a good game today, Sunday, sinking 2 more goals and 2 more (one being a HEADER from a corner kick) hitting the crossbar. My accuracy is improving. We went to eat lunch today after soccer and then I came home. A bit later, I got a call from one of the guys so I came downstairs where I was rewarded with some new football warm-up clothes. Apparently because of a job well done at the game. They just went to the store and bought me clothes haha. Korea is awesome. 

 
Well lately, despite feeling incredibly busy, I’ve been delaying an entry because I haven’t felt any inspiration to write. This past weekend was a holiday weekend, Monday being Korean Memorial Day. So on Saturday I went to the southern costal city of Busan. Its typically regarded as the tropical hangout for Koreans and it showed. The beach was as crowded as a subway car. There was also a sandcastle festival that was being held on the beach complete with an aerial acrobatic show put on by fighter jets. Both ended up being pretty cool. I came home Saturday night so I could play soccer Sunday morning, and my decision proved to be a good one because I was able to sink 2 more goals for my team.

My school gives me $100 (equivalent) to be used on a Korean “cultural” experience, which is really inappropriately named, given your trip really doesn’t require you to do anything Korean. Or cultural. I’ve decided to use mine to fund a trip to the Busan Aquarium, where I’ll receive SCUBA training and then be given time to swim in their huge salt water sting ray/shark/giant grouper fish tank. There’s no cage or anything. Just a wetsuit and a tank. Apparently they feed the sharks first, and then I don’t look as appetizing.

For my summer vaca, I think I will be going to Vietnam for a few days, then take a bus to Cambodia for a few more days, and then catching a plane back to KR. The trip should be around 10 days, so I’m looking forward to the break.

At church Sunday I found out one of the guys is an eagle scout and runs the BSA troop for all the military brats in Daegu. I told him that I’m an Eagle Scout as well and volunteered to help if/when he needed it. He seemed excited. His wife is Pilipino and after mentioning that they were taking a vaca to see her family, I asked him for some travel tips. I told him about my upcoming aquarium experience and he said I needed to go to the Philippines’ and dive there. So sometime around Christmas, I’ll be escaping the frigid Korean temperatures, and heading back down to the tropics for some R&R. Apparently the Philippine islands are home to some of the most diverse and prettiest underwater experiences in the world.

Today, (Monday) I made my maiden voyage to Costco, leaving with mixed feelings. Costs incurred to make this trip included $10 in train fees, $10 in cab fees, and a $30 membership. I don’t know if my protein powder and cheddar cheese were worth it. Apparently Korean Costco delivers if you meet a price requirement,  so that will save on costs in the future. If we had one in OK I’d have less buyers remorse. But on the bright side, I have cheese now! And real salsa!

 
I was able to log 2 more goals Sunday, which should put me at 9 total. I’ve been really trying to work out diligently lately, and do things that I feel will help me on the field, because I still think my athleticism is behind much of the team. And if I can’t beat them in skill, I should at least be able to keep up with them in stamina.

Last weekend the team talked to me about going to Uljin, a costal city in our province that is about 4 hours away. I guess it’s a weekend trip with a couple of big games to be played there. Because the communication is limited between my team, and me rarely do I know what exactly is going on. Most of the time I just nod and obey the hand gestures haha. The problem is…last time they had a traveling game, they told me I could go, and they’d like for me to go, but b/c of some rule or issue, I wouldn’t be playing. So I might get bored, seeing as there’d be no one for me to really talk to. Well, those thoughts came up again, but they were not discussed this time. They acted like I was going, and I assumed playing. I was really thinking, oh, since I'm scoring more and getting better, they think I'm ok to play in the tournaments now.

Last night at Dragons (Korean friend/coffee shop owner/liaison to soccer) we were talking and it seems like if I go, I still wont be playing. Apparently one of the club’s “captains” has gone to city hall on more than 1 occasion, and called multiple times, trying to convince them to permit me to play. The team keeps arguing that since I have a Gimcheon address, then I should be allowed to play, but city hall is denying the request, stating that (translated) I am not naturalized.  So I guess they really don’t want foreigners. And I’m still torn on what to do because the generosity and hospitality the team and individuals have shown to me is 2nd to none. Its shocking actually, what they go out of their way to do for me. So I don’t want to seem ungrateful or selfish, by not going with them on account of me not playing. So I really don’t know what to do. Decisions decisions. Regardless, here are several more pictures. 

 
Several things have been on my mind lately. Especially since last Tuesday. (Its sat. now). I've had quite a few thoughts coming at me...all from different origins. Posters, quotes, music, books, friends, and family. The first I might catch a bit of flack for, so let me voice a disclaimer. This doesn't apply to everything, just some things. That aside: Its better to regret something you did, than something you didn't.There are good and bad to me leaving Korea and to staying. The same is true of America. If I do extend my teaching contract for an additional semester, I will undoubtedly wish at times I had not. Yet there are things that I can learn from being here another 6 months that could not happen otherwise. and I think when I apply my first thought to my current conundrum, ( I love that word)...I need to stay. 


DMZ

5/9/2011

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Going to the DMZ was one of the top attractions I wanted to see whilst being in Korea. I had been debating on signing up with Adventure Korea to do a visit through them but on the very day I had planned to sign up, the email came through from the POE that the DMZ would be our destination for our cultural trip. It couldn’t have been  better !

I have tried to explain how I feel about the border and the separation of Korea a few times and each time it is difficult. The simple answer is that the division is horrible and a tragic end to an already devastating situation. That, however, does not explain why, with all the beautiful, positive, and photogenic places that Korea has to offer, I would be most interested in a place that could easily be described as the complete opposite.

Growing up in the United States, the world and its history, as viewed through textbooks, tends to be somewhat of an illusion. We all know the world is not flat anymore but until you have actually observed another place and seen how having a completely different history can shape a culture, you haven’t seen the world in all its depth of diversity. Seeing nothing more than pictures in history class or video clips on CNN is viewing the world from behind an objective lens.  I wanted to see the border because it is a constant reminder of something horrible but something real. This selfishness and greed that has caused a society to be divided has been a thorn in the side of eastern Asia for the past fifty years. However, the border also speaks very well for the citizens of South Korea as they were able to accomplish what has now been coined as “The Miracle On The Hahn River”. This shows what determination and perseverance can accomplish when a group of people have a unified interest and know that their survival depends solely on their success.

Another reason that I was so interested in seeing the border is because, as I also believe, people are drawn to things that are foreign to them. There is a sense of interest in something that you’re not an expert on. I know that this does not apply to all areas (I do not know anything about, nor have any particular interest in, underwater basket weaving). Because I have experienced no real suppression from my government, or been denied of any generic simple human freedoms or liberties, being able to observe a culture who has, is interesting and intriguing. Explaining this fascination is difficult: it shouldn’t be interpreted as someone wanting to go to a circus show to see a five-legged dog or two-headed monkey. It is far from this kind of objective “gaze upon a specimen”. Rather, I find a draw to the conflict within North Korea because it is so difficult for me to grasp how, with the world that it is now in 2011, a place like that still exists. Thus, on a very personal level, it challenges my worldview as built through school textbooks. It is as close to time travel as one might be able to find. Coming from first-world America, being able to experience countries of a vastly different state of affairs, such as Cuba which is still very old-world, China which is communist by name only and North Korea which is more of a fascist dictatorship than communist, is enlightening and eye-opening to better understand the world. I hurt for the citizens of North Korea and wish that they could be allowed to excel to their full potential. Looking at what South Korea has accomplished I can’t help but think of what could be done with more land, more resources and a reunification of a family.

 
You can’t always get what you want. You cant. Nobody can. The past 24 hours have been some of the greatest and the most stressful since I’ve been here. The more I like Korea the more stressed I get. Ironic? I don’t know. It’s definitely an uneasy feeling. I do know that. I’m the train bound for Seoul now. I’ve got the next 7 says off. Am I spending it in Seoul? No, just traveling 3 hours to watch a movie. And yes, there’s a more than adequate theater 3 minutes from my apartment. Maybe I’ll get the over night train back home. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe Monday.

I’m listening to the referenced song by The…Stones. I’m also about 1/3 the way through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the book, the narrator talks about his past through the form of a ghost. The ghost is the antagonist fighting against the narrator to live outside the box of rationality. To stop believing everything people tell him just because it’s always been that way. Most of the discussions he has are philosophical about how the ghost went crazy thinking about things. The more he thought, the crazier he became. And incidentally, the more I read, the more wound up I feel. Like 14 cups of coffee wound up.

Four hours of music per day has turned into 4 minutes and up is the amount of reading I’m doing. It’s also exhausting. I feel like I'm reading as much of the dictionary as I am this book.

Between the books power to induce stressful thoughts and the looming question of what I want to do with my life until February 2012…I'm worn out. I mean really. Are you kidding me? I have 6 shirts and 4 pair of pants and it takes me 30 minutes to decide what to wear. All I really want to do is find a Do Not Disturb sign and hang it out side my brain for a day. I don't want to make a decision that deals with that far in the future.  

What am I doing in Korea? Why did I come? For experience in teaching, yes that’s it. Good. One question down. Lets keep going….

The more places I go the more places I want to be. Anyone who has ambitions or zeal to acquire more can understand this. It wears me out. When you weight train you lift the weight until your exhausted. When you want a car built…and I mean REALLY built…you pump every dime you can find into it. If you REALLY want something you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse. Fact. If you like to travel, the same is true. I want to go and go and go. More and more and more. I’m trying to find a way and it’s exhausting. Oh yeah…”you can’t always get what you want.” Thanks Mic.

1.5 hours into my train ride the train is paced. Like sardines packed. Saddlebags on a motorcycle trip packed. I'm glad I bought my ticket yesterday because I have a seat. If there are no seats left, then the train company sells standing tickets. So people flood the isles and café car.

Another reason I thought to listen to that song is because Sharon Owsley, my mom’s friend, has always called me a rolling stone. And I love it. That screams adventure to me and I like being thought of as an adventuresome individual. I think life begins right outside of your comfort zone. (Or at least for me it does).

Gong back to obsession (that’s really what it is) is dangerous. Think of the freshman that pulls an all nighter to read 3 chapters ahead in his psych book because he’s just that interested. You say he’s diligent. Going after something he likes. If the same student did the same thing but drew circles all night, he’s obsessed. Mad. And would probably end up being an example IN the psych book. My point is, obsession to often connotes negativity and right now that’s what I feel. My snowball is getting way to big and going way to fast and I cant keep up. But getting out of the way would mean not seeing what happens. I cant do that either. I need a meadow of wildflowers to go lay in. or a beach. Maybe I’ll just fall asleep on the return train and end up at the beach on Busan.

Well we’re finally getting close to Seoul; time to enjoy the city for a few hours.

p.s. what the entry was supposed to be about was whether to stay for an additional 6 months in Korea. A topic for next time I suppose. 

 
Saturday I experienced my first soccer outing in Korea. I was picked up at 1:30 and we headed to the field. We ride for about 8 minutes and then the guy I’m with points and says, “soccer field” as we head towards Gimcheon University. So we drive up a hill and through the entrance to the university and I’m thinking we’ll be playing on their side field or practice pitch, which is what would happen in the states. But we round the corner and the guy I’m with says “we play” as he points to this pristine perma-marked lush Astro Turf field that’s not for anything BUT soccer. It has alternating shades of green that look hand picked for perfection…I just can’t believe we get to use this.

So by this time I’m questioning what I’ve got myself into not knowing how serious these guys are or if this is an actual league or just a pick up game (you’d think not considering the facility). All I knew was, Saturday was (translated into English) “soccer testing” and afterwards I could decide if I wanted to play more on Sunday. I got out of the pickup with my bag and started walking to the field. As I walk through the gate I felt the vibe change from warm fuzzy puppies to something like a mix between hungry hyenas’ seeing an easy dinner and several toddlers being interrupted by the jolly green giant. All the while the only thing going through MY mind is feeling a random connection to 2Pac singing All Eyez on Me.

Much like a kid with new toys on Christmas these guys wouldn’t even wait for me to get my boots on before trying to get me out on the pitch. Herrrrrrrre we go I thought. Kick the ball not the ground. Hard to feet soft to space. Keep moving. [repeat] 20 minutes later a whistle blew and the warm up balls (yep they had ‘em) went into the ball bag and the game ball came out. I was tossed a jersey and told to “stay”. While my shorts didn’t have a matching gold number to go with my jersey like theirs, I still felt pretty good. Apparently I’m starting. Sweet.

Game 1 Half 1. Play. 30 minutes later the half time whistle sang. I didn’t do much. I had a few good passes while logging minimal mistakes.  My goal was to always be moving into space.

G1H2: About the same…with the addition of getting rolled up by the keeper when I attempted a header that came from a cross delivered by our left forward. Hello ground.

G2: I sat out. I met 2 other guys, one who spoke pretty good English. One was 28 and the other 29 and both were in the top 4 players there. We chat it up for a bit and out comes the request for me to change teams. “You switch. You play for us. We are friends. Yes?” Aww, they’re befriending the lonely foreigner. How cute.

G3H1: I seemed to do a lot more running this half. I had 2 good right-footed crosses and a really sweet chest trap one touch where I passed it back. It was a good 1-2 give n’ go.

G3H2: About half way through I was playing right striker and made a diagonal run towards the goal as my right halfback gave a great through pass. I dribbled to the near corner of the 18 and had a decent ground shot destined for the far post. It went wide by inches. It was still a good feeling though finally getting an acceptable shot off. Not to mention a confidence boost. Five minutes later we had a good left line break and the left striker dribbled to the inside of the 18, got caught up with a defender, and ended up a few feet closer to the goal than him. I was on the 6 by the right post and stopped moving because I had the split thought “ah! Off sides!” Then thought, keep playing, no whistle. I yelled Yep! Yep! And through came the ground ball. The keeper came towards me and after a slight body check, the near post was all mine. “Placement over power” I thought and tapped it in for the goal.

By the end of that game I looked more like a waddling duck than a walking person but the pleasure was certainly worth the pain.

Five blisters, 1 black toenail, 1 goal, 20 new friends, and 3 hours later, it’s easy to say that was the best afternoon I’ve had since being in Korea.

I know now that the get together is just a very official looking series of afternoon pick up games. If there was some sort of newcomer test, I think I passed because they asked me to come play on Sunday on a real grass field. What!? As if this wasn’t awesome enough. Thank you Korea. Thank you WORLD for liking soccer more than the U.S. does. 

 
So I was riding on the bus to school today and a simply stating…I guess I was counting my blessings. To my M,W,F school I can take the any bus on the hour, every hour up until noon. I couldn’t get dressed in time to take the 10 o’clock, which is what I prefer…so I opted for the 11:00. I needed to break a big bill so I could pay my bus fare so I stopped and bought an overpriced (but tasty) caramel macchiato. Today is the third day in a row that I we’ve received AWESOME spring like weather. Clear skies, mild wind, and temperatures in the mid 70’s. Beautiful weather I tell ya. I really can’t wait until I’m able to run every day and workout outside. Which naturally brings me to my first reason of awesomeness. I have a finished rooftop in the building I live in that I am free to use. Whats more is I'm able to leech wi-fi from atop my building. So between my yoga mat, push up bars, reclining lawn chair and laptop…. I cannot WAIT for the evenings temp to bearable.

So I make it to my bus and to my surprise, the 11:00 bus is cheaper. Why? That I do not know. But I am happy. Very happy, and I believe this will be my bus of choice from now on.

To recap: I’ve got a beautiful morning, tasty drink, cheap bus, and a window seat with a sliding window to hang my arm out of just like I was driving.  This is going to be a good day I thought. I was going over some financial figures in my head, and thinking about how I’m going to be able to save about a grand each month that I’m here. I will have my new heating unit paid off for my house by the time I return to the states and realized there are several people who made this traveling/teaching experience possible for me.

To my parents: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Despite the fact that you were naturally and obviously concerned for me and my safety and well being, you never once said a negative word or even showed a disapproving expression about my desire to come to the other side of the world. You just smiled and said be safe and have fun. And you’ve always done that. I can’t remember one time that you voiced a negative thought about one of my hair brained adventures. You went out of your way to tote my trucks back to Elk, and did a selfless job of overseeing the installation of the new heating unit. You made sure it was paid for and that I didn’t get ripped off. You took care of my taxes and insurance, and have volunteered to send me anything I need.

To Kyle, A.I., and Cole: The same goes for you. Thank you. While you might not think you had anything to do with this decision or I that I didn’t care what you thought…It’s just not true. All of you guys were supportive and had no problem with basically accepting all responsibility for the house. I left the kitchen a mess with the cabinets ripped apart, and said peace to a broken heater. In January. A week before Oklahoma got the lowest recorded temperature in the states history. My bad. But more than that…if you guys didn’t tolerate my eccentric personality and annoying requests, I wouldn’t have been free to leave my responsibilities at the house. So really, if you guys weren’t cool with it, I couldn’t have left. I just really appreciate your open mindedness and relaxed attitude about everything. I seriously couldn’t find better roommates. Thank you.

 
The last 2 weeks have been quite dramatic over in this half of the world, after mother nature wound up for a triple punch on Japan, coming severely close to a knockout. Thankfully the positioning of Korea is such that we saw nothing come our way...despite the western coast of America reporting damages.

Last week another fellow English teacher had the idea to make paper cranes to send to a few of the elementary schools caught in the disaster path. She shared her idea with everyone via Facebook and the idea exploded. Someone suggested that the students should help, and within a few hours over 50 fellow teachers had jumped on board to have their classes participate. So we decided to shoot for 1000 paper cranes. Just like young Japanese girl that enriched her nation, we are hoping our efforts will raise the sprits of the affected children this time around.

We were advised early on to expect a small amount of disinterest and possibly even hostility towards this activity by the older kids (5th and 6th grade) because of the historical Korea/Japan wars. By age 12 students have been in their fair share of history classes and as unbiased as the teacher might be, there are still few positive topics regarding the 2 Asian countries. They have bad blood between them that runs centuries old. At one point while under Japanese rule, the Koreans were tortured for speaking their own language, while made to take Japanese names and all but abolish their traditions. From prostitution and slavery to bombs and island takeovers, they've endured a lot.

I had my students write a short note on the paper before folding them into cranes, saying something like "Hi my name is ______ and I'm from Korea. I'm sorry about the disasters and hope you get better." My 5th grade class was the worst, having 2 kids who even after they wrote the note extending their condolences, used the extra space to draw the island of Japan with a Korean flag and a missile heading for it, with a Korean stick figure w/ a gun on top of a Japanese soldier. Tisk tisk. I removed him from the activity. He didn't think I was being fair, so I had my Korean co teacher explain to him that we all have the opportunity and get to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to be angry or happy. I could be mad at him every day, because he is loud, stands in his chair, climbs on the table, and constantly interrupts me. But I decide to be happy. And nice. I was able to finish the bird project with all of my classes and the cranes will soon fly across the sea to brighten some faces and lift some spirits.