Category Archives: seosan

“Faking It”

A few days ago I gave my first performance at “A Guide To Visitors: Storytelling in Seattle.” While I’m pretty comfortable writing stories, I had never before stood up on stage and performed one in front of an audience. To top it off, I couldn’t use my notes. Nerve-wracking, no doubt, but I think I made it through my set relatively error-free, and I got a good reaction from the crowd. Definitely a lot of fun and I hope to share more stories in the future. Below is a written version of the story I told, based off the theme of the night: “Faking It.” Check it out below.  

There is an old proverb that says, “A turtle only travels when it sticks out his neck.” I know this because it was written on a card given to me by my sister, right before I left the country for 15 months.

It was a couple years ago. I had just graduated from college and I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  All I knew was I that wanted to see what else was out there. I wanted to experience something new. So after giving it a little thought, I did what any rational person would do: I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family, and flew to the opposite side of the world: South Korea.

 I had signed a year-long contract to teach English at private language academy in a small farming town called Seosan, an hour and a half southwest of Seoul. I’d be teaching kids and adults. It was just what I wanted. A change.  A challenge. It was going to be great. I couldn’t wait! There were, however, a few minor details that I may have overlooked in my rush to find a way out Seattle, namely, that with the exception of Canada, I had never traveled outside of the country…And I had never traveled anywhere alone before…And I had no teaching experience… And I didn’t know a word of Korean… And I knew absolutely no one who lived or had lived in Korea. I could barely use chopsticks. I was woefully underprepared, but I had made up my mind and my plane ticket was non-refundable. I was going.

 (The Rest of the Story After The Jump)

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Korea Update

Some of you dedicated readers out there (read: Mom and Dad) may have noticed that I’ve been a little lax in the blogging department as of late. Well fear not. It’s not that my interest or affection for life in Korea has waned, it’s just that I’ve only got 12 days left here in the Land of the Morning Calm, and I’m doing my damnedest to enjoy every last minute of it. In between running errands and tying up various loose ends, I’ve also been trying to spend as much time with my friends out here as possible. That means lots of day trips, darts games, and trips to the Galbi Tent a.k.a the most glorious place on the planet to stuff your pie-hole.

I’ve also been hitting the gym and running a bit more in preparation for my upcoming bike ride which I’m super stoked about. I fully intend on blogging the trip as much as I can (because it’s probably going to kick unparalleled amounts of ass) but seeing as I won’t have a computer or an internet connection readily available, I probably won’t be able to update as frequently or as in depth as I would like. That being said,  I plan to branch out a bit into the interweb and use my high-fallutin’ Twitter account to post short updates whenever possible (note: I signed up before Oprah). If you’re interested, you can follow along for the ride at SinkorSchwim. Yes, social networking sites are slowly taking over my life, but I’m doing it all for the fans (again, read: Mom and Dad).

Anyway, I still think I have a few good Korea posts left in me. Even after 13 months there is still no shortage of things to write about, only a shortage on time. So keep your eyes peeled and make sure you stay tuned for the next adventure.

Related Viewing: “Final Countdown”- Europe

Gob would be proud.

Compartment Country

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Tee’d Off: Jon hits the virtual lynx

With so many people and such limited real estate, frivolous use of space in Korea is out of the question. To make things more efficient, Korea has developed into a country of compartments. In addition to the endless numbers of apartment blocks in which most Koreans live, there are is also series of rooms (called “bangs”) for nearly every interest. There’s the PC Bang for playing Starcraft and other soul-sucking games. There’s the Norae Bang (song room) for belting out aweful karaoke jams. There are video rooms to watch new releases on huge flatscreens. There is the “Jim-Jil Bang” designed for sitting and sweating. I even found a room specifically reserved for playing ping pong.

Recently a few friends found another room to add to this compartment culture: screen golf. Now I can’t play golf to save my life, but the technology in these places is pretty impressive even to an outsider. It’s got hundreds of virtual golf courses, variable wind speeds, self-adjusting putting surfaces, and even soothing bird-chirping sounds for when you shank your ball into the water hazard. Best of all, it shrinks massive golf courses into the siz e of something just larger than your living room.

With space being so scarce, I can foresee a future in Korea where all outdoor recreational activities will be condensed into some sort of virtual form. People will go on virtual treks in the Hiking Bang, fly down virtual slopes in the Skiing Bang, and then head to the Fishing Bang to catch some virtual tuna. While many city planners would look Korea’s density as an intimidating  barrier, to Koreans, there is always room for growth.

Related Viewing: “Everything in It’s Right Place” – Radiohead

Korean Culinary Mishap: Mother’s Finger

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As a kid there was nothing I liked better after a long hard day at school than sitting down at the kitchen counter and chompin’ down on a Mother’s Finger. So good. They are kind of like Butterfingers, except more cannabalistic. Seriously, does this make any sense at all?

Is Conical Pizza Necessary?

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I’ve been seeing these signs around Seosan lately advertising for cone pizza and I must say, I’m not happy about this recent geometric redesign of one of my favorite foods. Why do people feel they can mess with perfection? First someone went and made raspberries blue. Then they took breakfast cereals, subtracted the milk, and condensed all my favorite brands into disgusting bar formations. Now someone has the bright idea to take pizza, which for centuries, if not millenia, has always been round and flat (and delicious btw) and reformatted it to resemble some sort of Baskin & Robbins experiment gone horribly awry. Are people really getting that bored with pizza that they will only eat it if it’s presented to them in a cone? I think not. My message to marketers: please stop screwing with food fundementals. Raspberries should always be red, Cheerios should always be served in milk, and pizza should always be triangular. That’s just the way God wants it.

One Year Anniversary and New Adventures

So I’m a little late getting to this, but last Wednesday was my official one year anniversary here in Seosan, South Korea! My how time flies. There were certain points early on where I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through the whole year, but now, 365 and some odd days later, I know I made the right decision. Life out here is basically a paid vacation, and in fact, if it weren’t for friends and family back home, I probably would stay a lot longer. Which is why, I am, sort of.

I have extended my contract by six weeks, which pushes my departure date from Korea  back to May 3rd. Before I head back to the friendly confines of the Emerald City, however, I meeting up with two good friends I’ve made in Seosan to embark on an adventure of epic proportions.

The plan is as follows. Just before my contract in Korea expires, I will send pretty much all my belonging back home via cargo ship, and then head off to meet my friend John in Bristol, England. The only things I will take with me will be a bike and two 20 kilogram pannier bags filled with a change of clothes, camping gear, and my camera. After hanging out in Bristol for four days, John and I will catch a plane to Porto, Portugal where we’ll meet up with out friend Chett, a fellow teacher and all-around awesome dude.

In fact, this whole idea is his to begin with. After biking across Canada, Vietnam, and New Zealand, as well as walking from Mumbai to Goa, India, Chett decided that he’d like to cycle across Europe. His goal is to one day cycle around the world in little chunks, finishing up in Beijing. Why do such a thing? Because it’s there, and he can.  When he invited John and I to join along, we didn’t hesitate in answering yes. If Chett doesn’t continue teaching he should probably go into sales, because from the moment he pitched me his idea, I was hooked.

After we leave Porto, we’ll head Northeast and cross through to northern Spain, continue on through southern France, and then end up in Northern Italy. We’ll follow along various sections of the Eurovelo, a network of cycle-friendly roads which criss-cross Europe. It will be six weeks of cycling, camping, and just generally prolonging returning to the real world as long as possible. I should arrive home just in time for my sister’s wedding on June 21st.

So that’s the update for now. I’ve got a little less than six weeks to go here in Korea, and right now, I plan on enjoying every last minute of it.

Here’s a very rough view of what the route will look like:

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P.S. If anyone knows a good bike shop in Seoul, please let me know.

Related Viewing: “Sheep Go To Heaven” – Cake, from the album Prolonging the Magic

Hoop Dreams: Pick Up Basketball in Korea

korea14052Messed Around, Wound Up With A Triple Double

Now that the reasonably warm weather has returned to Seosan, I’m spending a lot more time partaking in one of my favorite pastimes: pickup basketball. This game has been with me since I was kid. With my house located directly across the street from a giant schoolyard blacktop with four full courts, perfect for the casual game of Horse or impromptu games of hoop. All you had to do was walk up, call next game, and wait for your turn. Games to eleven, winner stays, play by ones, win by two. Couldn’t be simpler.

If organized basketball is like a orchestrated concert with its complex trapping schemes and triangle offenses and various other forms of higher strategy, pickup basketball is the sporting equivalent of a basement jam session. It’s fluid, it’s fast, unrehearsed and unhinged.

Playing basketball in Korea, I’ve found that the numerous cultural differences I experience elsewhere in daily life seem to just fade away when on the court. That’s the beauty of sports. No matter where you go, the rules of the game are constant. If you take three steps without dribbling the ball, that’s a travel. If you hack someone’s arm while he’s going to the hoop, that’s a foul. If someone makes an incredible circus shot, you let him know he got lucky. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Seoul or Seattle, rules are rules. When you’re thousands of miles away from home, it’s comforting to know that some things in life are impervious to change, like the singularly satisfying sound of a composite leather ball swishing through a chain-link hoop.

Maybe it’s the unifying characteristics of the game that have been a catalyst for basketball’s rapid global growth in popularity in recent years. When I went to China last December, my tour guide told me that his life long dream was to travel to Los Angeles to see Kobe Bryant play a game in the Staples Center. That day we talked more about the NBA than we did about the Forbidden City.

Though the fundamental rules of the game are concrete, there are still plenty of distinctions between the pickup games I’m used in the States and the ones I play here in Korea. One of the biggest contrasts is the fact that teams tend to play zone defenses instead of man-to-man. Instead of guarding an individual player, defenders guard a particular space on the court, thus making driving to the basket more difficult and forcing offensive players to shoot from the outside. In a warm, heated gym, taking outside shots is straightforward, but on a brisk March afternoon with the sun in your eyes and swirling winds wreaking havoc on your release, connecting with a a long range jumper can be next to impossible. The low scoring turns games into marathon events, but for the true fan of the game, that’s actually an added bonus. I don’t really care about who wins or loses, I just like being on the court.

There are other differences as well, some of which have nothing to do with the actual game unfolding on the court. Take, for example, the increased occurrence of PWG – that’s Players Wearing Glasses. With so many guys sporting on-court eye wear, the propensity for flying spectacles is quite high. Some guys use a little strap that keeps their glasses from getting sent airborne. It’s a look that probably won’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but it keeps your specs on your face, and that’s all that matters. Kurt Rambis would be proud.

Perhaps the biggest contrast between games in the States and games in Korea takes place on the sidelines between games. Instead of reaching for a glass of water or some neon-colored sports drink, many players reach into their pockets and pull out the ultimate thirst quencher: cigarettes. Call me crazy, but when I’m doused in sweat and gasping for air, the last thing I want to do is inhale the smoke from a smoldering menthol, but hey, that’s just me.

In the end these differences are minor. Like a guitarist choosing his Telecaster over his Les Paul, it’s not really important what you play as much as how you play it. And when it comes to basketball, it turns out that rebounding, passing, shooting, defense and teamwork are the same in any language. Just follow the simple formula and you’ll be ok. Games to eleven, winner stays, play by ones, win by two. Couldn’t be simpler.