Tag Archives: korea

“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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Holga Shots

I was looking through some old albums and it just occurred to me: I’ve never posted any of my Holga pictures on this site. I took most of these several months ago while I was still in South Korea with Kodak 400 film and a Colorsplash flash. Check them out and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

Dinner’s Ready…or Not

Just when I thought I had seen all the crazy foods imaginable, I stumbled upon this little gem at a Korean grocery store in Lynnwood, WA. I have no idea what a “bung” is, but it doesn’t sound the least bit appetizing. No sir, none for me, now will you please pass the chicken nuggets? I may not know what’s in those things either, but when it comes to eating questionable animal parts, ignorance is bliss.

Folk Village Pics

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Here are some more pictures from my recent trip to the Korean Folk Village located in Suwon. It was a pretty enjoyable day-trip with a lot of interesting performances and cultural exhibits as well as some oddball “only-in-Korea” kinda stuff. If you’re in Korea and you’re looking for a leisurely way to spend an afternoon, head on down. You might actually learn something while you’re at it. There’s more information at the official site.

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This guy could slack line like nobody’s business, plus, being a consummate showman, he did it in his Ronald McDonald pajamas for added effect.

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I think working as a historical character at a tourist attraction would have to be one of the most surreal jobs a person could have. All day you pretend that you’re living as someone from the centuries old Chosun dynasty, and then when your shift is over, you walk into the parking lot, get into your minivan, and wind your way through traffic in one of the biggest, most modern cities in the world. That would totally mess with my head.

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Corn on a wire

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These girls were getting some serious air off the ancient see-saw. I tried this once way back in my elementary school days and, well, let’s just say that my friend’s collar bone has never been the same.

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“Could someone please turn on the gravity machine?”

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To be fair, this guy lost his dental coverage after he was laid off at the circus.

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If you look closely on the right hand side, you will see that there is now a receptacle where you can discard your annoying family pet. Meanwhile, the left hand side is reserved for people throwing away normal garbage, and also for people who have given up on juggling.

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This is an accident waiting to happen, but a pretty decent photo opportunity nonetheless.

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After touring the Folk Village, we went to the amusement park that was located on the other side of the park. However, the word “amusement” should be used lightly. A better choice would have been “the place where fun goes to die.” All the rides were empty, there were only a handful of people on the grounds (most of whom looked lost), and the employees, who were forced to wear red cowboy hats, all looked as if they were contemplating taking their own lives to end the sheer boredom of their jobs. Also, whoever thought animitronic animals were cool should be put in jail. They are scary and they haunt my dreams.

On the bright side, there was this cute bunny who smushed himself against his cage:

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I named him Cubez.

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.

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.

Dokdo Pictorial

The Boston Globe’s wonderful, large-format photo blog has a nice collection of photos on the Liancourt Rocks, aka “Dokdo” if you’re Korean, aka “Takeshima” if you’re Japanese. Why all the names? Well it seems that in recent months this isolated little outcropping of virtually uninhabited islands has become the center of an international dispute as both Korea and Japan are making a claim for the territory. The conflict dates back to the 15th century, but new developments have caused it to flare up once again. I may not know how this situation will end, but I do know that the Koreans will go all out with the protesting. Man do they love a good protest. Click the link for more info and more pics.

“Dokdo or Takeshima” – Boston.com